Monday, June 11, 2007

Chemistry of the fossil record, humankind's first deliberate communication to extraterrestrials and a story about alien anthropology

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 Abodes - It's been nearly 25 years since NASA sent biological experiments to Mars. Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center and a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, thinks it's time to try again. See article. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Life - To better understand what caused life to evolve or die out in the past, scientists are studying the chemistry of the fossil record. Jim Elser thinks phosphate may have played a key role in the Cambrian explosion and the mass extinction that preceded it. See
g Message - On Nov. 16, 1974, astronomer Frank Drake dedicated a new observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, by sending humankind's first deliberate communication to extraterrestrials. This story appeared Oct. 24 at See
g Cosmicus - Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft appeared to land on an asteroid for a brief shot at gathering samples for return to Earth. The problem-plagued mission had encountered numerous problems, and officials said dwindling fuel reserves meant Friday's sampling attempt would be the last one possible. Mission officials are analyzing data to determine whether the final try has been successful. See
g Learning - Book alert: “Alien Life: The Search for Extraterrestrials and Beyond,” by Barry Parker, just enough hard science to stretch the mind of the average well-read "X-Files" or "Star Trek" watcher, delivered in a calm and decidedly unmelodramatic style. Good reading, if you need to catch up to impress your scientifically oriented younger relatives during the holidays. See
g Imagining - Like stories about alien anthropology and cultures? Scour your used bookstore or local library for Robert Holdstock’s “Eye Among the Blind” (1976), in which an anthropologist becomes identified with an alien culture.
g Aftermath - Among scientists involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, it’s quite common to be focused on the future, ever mindful that it could take years, or even decades, to find a signal from otherworldly intelligence. But if historian Steve Dick has his way, astronomers will also turn their attention toward the past as they search for life beyond Earth — to discover the aftereffects of contact between two intelligent cultures. See
. Note: This article is from 2003.

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