Sunday, August 12, 2007

A radio amateur's guide to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, life on other polanets in our solar system and astrobiology’s key philosophic

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 -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. See article.
g Message -Book alert: H. Paul Shuch’s “Tune in the universe! A radio amateur's guide to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence” (published by ARRL in 2001 in CD format) provides a good introduction to SETI by the executive director of the SETI League. The contents range from how to build your own radio receiver in your backyard to Shuch's selected memoirs and songs. See article.
g Cosmicus -Quote of the Day: “(Humanity is about to)"… leave the era of Earth history, and enter an era of cosmic history." — Michael Michaud
g Learning -Here’s a neat set of classroom activities: Life On Other Planets in the Solar System. It examines the possibility of life on other planets in our own solar system and what form that life might take. It’s designed as a curriculum resource for middle and high school students.
g Imagining -Many problems faced the development of Astrobiology as a credible science when it was first named in 1958. The most basic of these problems was skepticism on the part of many scientists of the time. The ideas of Astrobiology touched too closely with science fiction to be considered seriously. The idea of life on Mars was definitely science fiction: H. G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" and Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" attested to that. And Gregory Benford and David Brin in “Heart of the Comet” have since addressed the idea of life being seeded on Earth by comets. Why would anyone take these ideas seriously as science? See article.
g Aftermath -The scientific discussion of the evolution of life in the universe raises some key philosophical and theological issues: Will life and intelligence be found throughout the universe, or will it turn out to be exceedingly rare? Will intelligent life be capable of both rationality and moral agency? Will evolutionary biology determine its moral content or will it merely bequeath intelligent life with moral capacity, leaving moral content to be determined independently of biology? If moral agency evolves, will these species inevitably exhibit moral failure, or is our generic human experience of moral failure strictly the result of our particular evolution, leaving us to expect there to be other civilizations that are entirely benign? The discussion of these issues, though largely hypothetical, can offer insight into the theological and cultural implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence as well into a better understanding of the human condition. See article.