Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Searching for life on Jovian satellites, emergence of complexity and promise and pitfalls of terraforming Mars

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 - Mars and the ice-covered satellites of Jupiter are currently the most favorable sites for the search of extraterrestrial life. The motivation for the search for life in the Solar System is the evidence of liquid water in the early history of Mars and, at present, in the interior of at least two of the galilean satellites (Callisto and Europa). Hydrothermal vents on the Earth's sea floor have been found to sustain life forms that can live without direct solar energy. Similar possible geologic activity on Europa, caused by tidal heating and decay of radioactive elements, makes this Jovian moon the best target for identifying a separate evolutionary line. This search addresses the main problem remaining in astrobiology, namely, the distribution of life in the universe. We explore ideas related to Europa's likely degree of evolution, and discuss a possible experimental test. The total lack of understanding of the distribution of extraterrestrial life is particularly troublesome. Nevertheless, technical ability to search for extraterrestrial intelligence, by means of radioastronomy, has led to remarkable technological advances. In spite of this success, the theoretical bases for the distribution of life in the universe are still missing. The search for life in the Jovian satellites can provide a first step towards the still missing theoretical insight. See article.
g Life - Scientists have developed a new model explaining how simple processes may have laid the foundation for life. Based on simple chemical and physical laws, the model shows how interactions between just a few chemicals can lead to novel combinations of molecules of greater complexity. This emergence of complexity in natural systems is essential in understanding how life as we know it began. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=2361&mode=thread&
g Cosmicus - At the Astrobiology Science Conference on March 30, 2004, scientists and science fiction writers faced off in front of a packed audience to debate the promise and pitfalls of terraforming Mars. In part 1 of this 7-part series, Christopher McKay advocates making Mars habitable for Martians. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/article1017.html. For related stories, see “New site features “live” images from Mars” at http://themis.asu.edu/ and “MIT Researchers Visit Mars On Earth” at http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-base-05n.html.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web page: “What is an astrobiologist - and how do I become one?” See http://www.astrobiology.com/how.to.html.

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