Saturday, September 08, 2007

Asteroid Belt breakup event, DNA from 500,000-year-old living bacteria and projections for signal detection

Welcome to the 1000th post of “Alien Life”! This blog 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 - The impactor believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs and other life forms on Earth some 65 million years ago has been traced back to a breakup event in the main asteroid belt. See article.
g Life - Researchers have discovered DNA from living bacteria that are more than half a million years old. The finding could provide an important insight into ancient life on Earth and the evolution of life throughout history. See article.
g Message - If extraterrestrials are out there, signals that would prove their existence are cascading over your body right now. Needless to say, you don’t notice. The challenge for SETI researchers is to build an instrument that will. Rising to the challenge, the SETI Institute and others are developing new search strategies and telescopes, encouraging some scientists to speculate that a signal detection will occur in the next decade or two. See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: "There are so many benefits to be derived from space exploration and exploitation; why not take what seems to me the only chance of escaping what is otherwise the sure destruction of all that humanity has struggled to achieve for 50,000 years?" – Isaac Asimov
g Learning - The fact that you’re confronting this column on a Web site devoted to space science and astronomy makes you roughly as rare as technetium. Despite the fact that astronomy is one of the two most popular science subjects in American schools (the other is biology), it’s really not that popular. See article. Note: This column is from early 2007.
g Imagining - When science fiction writers set out to design a world, they usually take care that their physics and astronomy conforms to known science by reading a few physics and astronomy books. But when designing aliens, anything goes, it seems! The problem appears to be that the literature of biology is simply unknown in the SF world. Mention Freeman Dyson or Robert Forward, and most hard SF readers and writers will know whom you are talking about. But mention Steven Vogel or Colin Pennycuick, and you are likely to be rewarded with polite bafflement. Here’s a list of books that’ll give you a solid grounding in biology. See article.
g Aftermath - How would humans react the day after ET landed? A nationwide survey by the Roper Organization in 1999 found that the following: “ out of four Americans think most people would “totally freak out and panic” if such evidence were confirmed. See article. Note: This article is from 1999.