Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Red dwarfs’ protoplanetary discs, Mars’ layered terrains and volunteers in simulated journey there

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 - Red dwarfs are smaller and cooler than our own Sun, but they account for 70% of the stars in our galaxy. Astronomers have wondered why there are so many red dwarfs, but they never seem to have protoplanetary discs of dust surrounding them, indicating the formation of new planets. These stars are too small to remove dust the way larger stars do it, but astronomers from UCLA think they could be using a process called "stellar wind drag". Even though they're smaller, red dwarfs can have very intense magnetic fields, producing a powerful solar wind. It's this solar wind that removes the dust, hiding evidence of planet formation. See article. Note: This story is from early 2005.
g Abodes - Layered terrains on Mars discovered by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft bear a striking resemblance to sedimentary deposits here on Earth that form under water. Liquid water is scarce on Mars nowadays, but it might have been common four billion years ago. If these Martian layers turn out to have a watery origin, as some scientists suspect, they could hold the key to the mysterious history of water (and maybe even life) on the Red Planet. See Note: This article is from 2001.
g Cosmicus - Space enthusiasts interested in tagging along on a 520-day roundtrip journey to Mars-a simulated one, that is-should apply now. See article.
g Imagining - Quote of the Day: “If you look at the diversity of what species look like on this planet, nature has come up with better things than our best science fiction,” — J. Craig Venter

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