Friday, August 10, 2007

Planets flung into space, clues to global carbon cycle changes and ET calling via our DNA

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 -Although the solar system was long regarded as the archetype of clockwork regularity, modern numerical simulations suggest that the orbits of the planets are vulnerable to chaotic variations over very long time scales. Furthermore, if one tried to squeeze another planet in between those that exist, the result would likely be dynamically unstable. The solar system appears to be filled nearly to capacity. Astronomers surmise that it probably began with more planets and that some of these primordial worlds were, one by one, flung off into the Galaxy, leaving today just eight planets in a state of marginal stability. Future observations may reveal whether other planetary systems generally display the same quality. See article.
g Life -Approximately 250 million years ago, vast numbers of species disappeared from Earth. This mass-extinction event may hold clues to current global carbon cycle changes, according to Jonathan Payne, assistant professor of geological and environmental sciences. Payne, a paleobiologist who joined the Stanford faculty in 2005, studies the Permian-Triassic extinction and the following 4 million years of instability in the global carbon cycle. In the July issue of the Geological Society of America Bulletin, Payne presented evidence that a massive, rapid release of carbon may have triggered this extinction. See article.
g Message -Forget waiting for ET to call — the most likely place to find an alien message is in our DNA, according to an expert in Australia. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Cosmicus -The Entry, Descent and Landing systems on NASA’s Phoenix lander will play a vital role in helping the mission make it to Mars. A safe landing is the next important step in Phoenix’s quest to search for frozen water beneath the surface of Mars. See article.
g Learning - School can be a real yawn. Two out of three high-school students in a large survey say they are bored in class every single day. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Donald Moffitt’s novel “The Jupiter Theft,” published by Del Rey in 1977.
g Aftermath -Donald E. Tarter, a consultant in space policy and technology assessment, makes a persuasive case for developing the protocols and technology to reply to an extraterrestrial signal before news of the discovery is made public, in his article, “Advocating an Immediate Response.” Delay could be costly as technologically advanced fringe groups or ambitious nations could attempt to score a propaganda victory by being the first to reply, creating a mixed and perhaps embarrassing first message. This could be avoided by settling on a quick and simple message to let the extraterrestrial source know that we had received their message. See article. Note: This report is from 1996.