Monday, June 04, 2007

Exploring Europa for life, planetary protection for Mars and X-Files’ invading aliens

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 - Europa, the ice-covered satellite of Jupiter, is currently the most favorable site for the search of extraterrestrial life. Hydrothermal vents on the Earth's sea floor have been found to sustain life forms that can live without solar energy. Similar possible volcanic activity on Europa, caused by its interaction with Jupiter and the other Galilean satellites, makes this Jovian moon the best target for identifying a separate evolutionary line. This search addresses the main problem remaining in astrobiology, namely, the quest for discrete, or 'parallel' evolutionary lines in the universe. We explore ideas related to Europa's possible biological activity, particularly its likely degree of evolution. We have conjectured that evolution may have occurred in Europa and that the experimental test of such a conjecture is feasible 1-3: A lander spacecraft capable of penetrating the European surface ice-layer does not seem beyond present technological capabilities. Although difficult instrumentation issues are involved, we have initiated the discussion of what would seem to be a reasonable biological experiment. The possibility of detecting biomolecules on the ice surface of Europa has recently been made. See article.
g Life - Can life travel from planet to planet? A theory called Panspermia says that meteorites could potentially act as miniature spaceships, carrying microorganism passengers. But a new study has found that photosynthetic life probably wouldn’t survive the journey. See
g Cosmicus - International regulations say it’s okay for astronauts to make a mess on the moon. But the rules for sending humans to Mars, according to Dr. Cassie Conley, NASA’s acting planetary protection officer, are far more restrictive. See
g Learning - Quote of the Day: "The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper." — Eden Philpotts
g Imagining - What about the invading aliens from the X-Files: Are they plausible? A book released a few years ago that addresses the topic is “The Science of the X-Files,” by Jeanne Cavelos. There’s a review of the book (look near the end for a discussion on the extraterrestrial biology) at

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