Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Newfound galaxies, Earth’s fate and monkeys speaking motherese

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 - By combining the capabilities of several telescopes, astronomers have spotted extremely bright galaxies hiding in the distant, young universe. The newfound galaxies are intrinsically bright due to their large rate of star formation -1000 times greater than the Milky Way. However, much of that light is hidden by surrounding dust and gas, leaking out only in the infrared. See article.
g Abodes - A planet orbiting a giant red star has been discovered by an astronomy team led by Penn State's Alex Wolszczan, who in 1992 discovered the first planets ever found outside our solar system. The new discovery is helping astronomers to understand what will happen to the planets in our solar system when our Sun becomes a red-giant star, expanding so much that its surface will reach as far as Earth's orbit. See article.
g Life - A new interpretation of results from NASA’s Viking missions may have profound implications for the search for life in our Solar System. The new theory may also be useful in designing future missions to search for life on Mars. See article.
g Intelligence - Female rhesus monkeys use special vocalizations while interacting with infants, the way human adults use motherese, or "baby talk," to engage babies' attention, new research at the University of Chicago shows. "Motherese is a high pitched and musical form of speech, which may be biological in origin," said Dario Maestripieri, Associate Professor in Comparative Human Development at the University. See article.
g Message - In the field of astrobiology, few people have had a bigger influence than Frank Drake. In this interview, he discusses his famous Drake Equation, alien messages, and the search for alien life. See article.
g Cosmicus - NASA engineers think they have found the cause of and a remedy for foam falling from brackets on the space shuttle fuel tank like that which recently damaged the Endeavour heat shield tiles, agency officials said Friday. See article.
g Imagining - What will an alien look like? If you follow the viewpoint of most television sci-fi, then all aliens will be men in rubber alien suits. The producers of “Star Trek” seem to think aliens are just like humans with little latex ridges on the noses or foreheads. The reason for this anthropomorphism on TV is that it’s cheap. The alien in the movie “Alien” was gross and ugly, and we surely would never be able to discuss our New Age feelings with such a creature. It cost the movie producers much more than a little latex on the bridge of an actors nose. The truth is that we are much more likely to meet Sigourney Weavers’s alien than a Bajorran. See article.
g Aftermath - Here’s an intriguing entry from the “Interdisciplinary Encyclopeadia of Religion and Science”: “Extraterrestrial Life.” It discusses the consequences of alien contact from a Catholic perspective. See article.