Sunday, August 26, 2007

Spotting planets like our own around nearby stars, reactions to Endeavour’s landing and comparing Earth to other worlds with regard to life

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 chemical fingerprint of a burned-out star indicates that Earth-like planets may be common in the universe. The finding may also give clues about the future of Earth and our own Solar System. See article.
g Life - Researchers have discovered fossil evidence that eukaryotes existed on earth some 2.7 billion years ago. This means that eukaryotes, bacteria and archaea separated into the three known domains of life sometime before this point in our planet’s history. See article.
g Message - In the search for life on other worlds, scientists can listen for radio transmissions from stellar neighborhoods where intelligent civilizations might lurk or they can try to actually spot planets like our own in habitable zones around nearby stars. Either approach is tricky and relies on choosing the right targets for scrutiny out of the many thousands of nearby stars in our galactic neighborhood. See article.
g Cosmicus - When teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan blasted off in space shuttle Endeavour, Middleport astronomer Barry DiGregorio was “right beside her in spirt.” And when the shuttle landed safely Tuesday, he sighed in relief, “Beautiful landing — whew!” See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site from NASA: A curriculum framework for comparing Earth to other planets with regard to life. See article.
g Imagining - During the past several years, evolutionary biologists have proved that the disparate creatures of our planet are, at a fundamental genetic level, very similar to one another. The genes that differentiate the top and the bottom of a bug, for instance, are the same ones that differentiate our fronts from our backs. According to the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, this new understanding is among "the most stunning evolutionary discoveries of the decade," and is clearly "a dominant theme in evolution." The same law applies, it appears, to the extraterrestrial creatures that come out of Hollywood. See article. Note: This article is from 1997.
g Aftermath - The more anthropocentric a person is, the less likely he is to believe that life exists beyond Earth. See article.