Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Astrobiology Field Laboratory, psychedelic octopus and theological implications of extraterrestrial 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 Abodes - A conceptual payload and mission scenario for the proposed NASA Mars mission known as the Astrobiology Field Laboratory, which will be equipped to perform state-of-the-art tests on samples collected from the Martian surface to answer fundamental questions about life in the universe, is described in a report in the August 2007 issue of Astrobiology.
g Life - Several strange creatures including a psychedelic octopus have been found in frigid waters off Antarctica in one of the world’s most pristine marine environments. See article. Note: This article is from early 2007.
g Message - Interstellar spacecraft are superior to electromagnetic wave propagation for extrasolar exploration and communication. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence should include a search for extraterrestrial probes. See article. Note: This article is from 1983.
g Cosmicus - Will tourism be what propels humanity into becoming a space-faring species? See article.
g Learning - Although exobiology is of widespread interest to high school science students, it is not generally dealt with comprehensively in most textbooks. In addition, teachers often have inadequate resources available to prepare classroom presentations on how life may have begun on Earth and whether these processes might take place elsewhere in the solar system and the universe. Here’s a classroom teaching module suitable for use in both general and advanced high school biology courses.
g Imagining - What is panspermia, a concept that appears in a number of science fiction stories, and how plausible is it? See article.
g Aftermath - Book alert: “Many Worlds: The New Universe, Extraterrestrial Life, and the Theological Implications,” by Steven J. Dick (ed.), is a provocative collection examining science's impact on theology. Based on a 1998 conference sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, this collection of essays opens with the observation that the Copernican revolution looks insignificant when compared to the discoveries made about the earth and the universe in the last century: we now know, for example, that the universe is billions (not thousands) of light-years big; that it is expanding, not static; that our galaxy is just one of many, not the entirety of the universe. But from looking at modern theology, you wouldn't think anything had changed. The contributors (who include physicists, philosophers, historians of science, and theologians) suggest that cosmological advances might reshape the very fundamentals of theology. Paul C.W. Davies argues that if the universe turns out to be biofriendly (i.e., if given enough time and the right conditions, life will emerge as a matter of course), scientifically savvy thinkers may be compelled to reject atheism and embrace intelligent design theory. The contributors are especially interested in extraterrestrial life: philosopher Ernan McMullin, for example, argues that extraterrestrial intelligence will force Christians to do some hard thinking about original sin, the human soul, and the Incarnation. Read more.