Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Taking chemical composition into account during planet searches, Mars simulation chamber and experimental testing of the Fermi paradox

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 -A recent study shows that the chemical make-up of “red dwarf” stars with orbiting planets is different from most of Sun-like stars that harbor planets — and indicates that astronomers must take chemical composition into account in their planet searches around these stars. See article. Note: This story is from late 2006.
g Abodes - A new explanation for forming super-Earths suggests that they are more likely to be found orbiting red dwarf stars - the most abundant type of star - than gas giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn. The theory, by Dr. Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, describes a mechanism whereby UV radiation from a nearby massive star strips off a planet's gaseous envelope, exposing a super-Earth. See Note: This article is from summer 2006.
g Life - By studying the survival of Earth microbes in a Mars simulation chamber, scientists are collecting data that may help NASA search for life on Mars. See
g Message -To subject the Fermi Paradox to needed experimental testing, a researcher has offered the Artifact Hypothesis: A technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilization has undertaken a long-term program of' interstellar exploration via transmission of material artifacts.
g Cosmicus - Behold Mars, a frozen and hostile world with temperatures below those of an arctic winter, lacking all but the wisp of an atmosphere. Is it only an impossible science fantasy to turn such a remote and alien landscape into one that will support human and other Earth-born life? Actually, there are good reasons to believe that this process, called "terraforming," will become technically feasible in the next few decades. In fact, terraforming techniques may be highly developed by the time other circumstances allow us to use them, and the hard part may be to choose the best plan from many possibilities. See Note: This article is from 1996.
g Learning - There’s a neat set of online activities, primarily for older teens or young adults, about communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence at It helps students learn about SETI while they send one another messages then decode them, as if they were alien civilizations on distant worlds.
g Imagining -Book alert: “What Does a Martian Look Like? The Science of Extraterrestrial Life,” by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart, draws on serious science — biology, chemistry, astronomy and physics — and also on science fiction, because the best of it has “made some useful contributions to the scientific understanding of possibilities for alien lifeforms.” See
for reviews.
g Aftermath - Quote of the Day: “Superior beings smile at our theories, and at our presumption in making them.” — Benjamin Franklin