Monday, May 28, 2007

Worlds discovered where they shouldn’t be, Spirit passing once volcanic Mars and message vs. random noise

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. You may notice that this and future entries are shorter than usual; Career, family and book deal commitments have forced me to cut back some of my projects. Now, here’s today’s news:
g Stars - University of Texas at Austin astronomers have discovered a system of two Jupiter-like planets orbiting a star whose composition might seem to rule out planet formation. This NASA-funded study has implications for theories of planet formation. See article.
g Abodes - NASA's Spirit rover has found that the plateau it's cruising across was the site of long-past explosive volcanic activity. In addition, the rover has collected data indicating that water once existed at or beneath the planet's surface. See
g Life - A paleo-bully of sorts, a Tyrannosaurus rex could chomp down on prey with the force needed to lift a semi-trailer, tearing apart a victim's bones. Now researchers have discovered the dino's secret weapon: it was hard-headed. See
g Intelligence - Free will and true spontaneity exist ... in fruit flies. This is what scientists report in a groundbreaking study in the May 16, 2007 issue of the open-access journal PLoS ONE. See
g Message - If ET ever phones us, would we recognize the call as anything other than random noise or a star? See Note: This article is a couple of years old.
g Cosmicus - Despite stringent restrictions, international regulations do allow for living terrestrial organisms to be sent to Mars – and for martian rocks that may contain life to be returned to Earth. In this exclusive Astrobiology Magazine interview, NASA’s acting planetary protection officer, Dr. Cassie Conley, explains how it could be done. See
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site in which Monica Grady, head of petrology and meteoritics in the department of mineralogy at the Natural History Museum, presents a comprehensive introduction to astrobiology:
g Imagining - Could Star Trek’s Guardian of Forever — the ancient portal that does not know if it’s a machine or a life form (go to and click on "The Guardian of Forever) — evolve? The Guardian likely is an intelligent, self-aware machine. Presuming that time travel to the past is even possible, the enormous energy required to accomplish this task likely wouldn’t arise in a naturally evolving organic creature. Instead, it probably would be done mechanically (though organic elements might be incorporated into the machine’s components). Of course, a significant motif of science fiction is the question if artificial constructs that gain self-awareness then also “life” (as in The Next Generation android Data). A civilization capable of creating a stable time portal almost certainly also would be capable of creating an intelligent, self-aware machine. In short, the Guardian didn’t evolve via survival of the fittest but was built.
g Aftermath - Though an older Web posting, “After Contact, Then What?” ( shows how little we’ve thought about this matter.

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