Saturday, July 28, 2007

Planets around quadruple-star system, chances of ET’s messages reaching us and SETI for elementary students

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 - The Galaxy Evolution Explorer's ultraviolet eyes have captured a globular star cluster, called NGC 362, in our own Milky Way galaxy. In this new image, the cluster appears next to stars from a more distant neighboring galaxy, known as the Small Magellanic Cloud. See
g Abodes - Astronomers used Spitzer's infrared vision to study a dusty disk that swirls around a pair of stars in the quadruple-star system HD 98800. Such disks are thought to give rise to planets. Instead of a smooth, continuous disk, the telescope detected gaps that could be caused by a unique gravitational relationship between the system's four stars. Alternatively, the gaps could indicate planets have already begun to form, carving out lanes in the dust. See
g Life - Understanding how life on Earth began requires a clear explanation of the chemical reactions necessary to synthesize the basic building blocks of life. An exciting new report that presents potential mechanisms for nucleobase synthesis in interstellar space and under the conditions of early Earth is featured in the June issue of Astrobiology. See
g Message -What are the chances that an alien signal has been sent our way just at the right moment to splash upon our antennas during that brief interval? If the extraterrestrials beam their broadcasts to the whole galaxy (or at least a big chunk of it), the chances are 100 percent. See
g Cosmicus -The Pentagon decommissioned its experimental Orbital Express satellites this week, bringing the on-orbit satellite-servicing and robotics demonstration to an irreversible end. See http://www.
g Learning -Here’s a great book for fourth- through sixth-grade kids: “Is Anybody Out There?” by Heather Couper, Nigel Henbest and Luciano Corbella. Of the book, one reviewer wrote: “Does intelligent life exist beyond our planet? This visually exciting examination looks at both the myth and the science related to the question. The authors, both British science writers, describe what alien lifeforms might look like, how we might communicate with them, and the impact the discovery of extrasolar planets has had on the development of scientific equipment. The book is organized into 17 appealing photo-spreads, comprising color photographs, detailed captions and boxed insets that contain information about a scientist or about a historic scientific event, or suggested activities for would-be scientists. The inclusion of a "count the alien civilizations" foldout board game is a bonus.” See
g Imagining - A new report, “The Limits of Organic Life in our Solar System” is clear: Life could exist in many forms utterly unfamiliar to us from our experiences on Earth, and if we want to be sure of finding life, we need to expand our ideas of what might qualify. See
g Aftermath - Humanity’s foray into the solar system brings out the ethical issue of what we should do if life is found in outer space. Do we send more probes to further investigate and do we have a responsibility to protect that life and allow it to develop naturally? See