Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Detecting biomarkers on Mars, expanding bubble of electromagnetic radiation and ‘Voyages Through Time’

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 - Components for a new approach to discover life on Mars are now in low-Earth orbit for 12 days to test their survivability in the space radiation environment. The technology is similar to a pregnancy test, and has the potential to detect trace levels of biomarkers on Mars. See article.
g Message - The Earth is at the center of an expanding bubble of electromagnetic radiation. The bubble, expanding at the speed of light, contains all of the man-made electromagnetic transmissions of the earth - radio, TV, radar and so on. In theory, an alien civilization could receive these signals, and form their opinion about the earth by analyzing them. To most people, it is quite discouraging to think that some alien civilization would form their opinion of Earth based upon our situation comedies. Upon a slightly deeper analysis, the conventional wisdom says, “Aliens might detect our TV signals, but at least they can't form their opinion of our civilization from our TV transmissions. Decoding the transmission is so much harder than detecting it that we don't need to worry about this.” But an editor of the book “SETI 2020” argues that this view considerably underestimates the technologies that aliens might employ. By looking at likely technical improvements - better receivers and feeds, bigger antenna, signal processing, and perhaps stellar focusing, any civilization that can detect our radiations might well be able to decode it as well. Thus aliens can form their impression of Earth from “I Love Lucy.” See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: "...in our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think, how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world." — President Ronald Reagan, United Nations General Assembly, (Sept. 21, 1987)
g Learning - Here’s a neat set of classroom activities for high school students: “Voyages Through Time.” It’s an integrated science curriculum for ninth or tenth grade based on the theme of evolution and delivered on CD-ROM. Its six modules span the breadth of astrobiology research, from cosmic evolution through the evolution of life, and beyond. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Orson Scott Card’s novel “Ender's Game,” published by Tor in 1985.
g Aftermath - In the last quarter of the 20th century, an international social movement — Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence — has emerged which advocates an attempt to achieve communication with extraterrestrial intelligence, and many of its most active members have been leading scientists. Modest efforts to detect radio signals from intelligent extraterrestrials already have been made, both under government aegis and privately funded, and the technical means for a more vigorous search have been developed. If a CETI project were successful, linguists would suddenly have one or more utterly alien languages to study, and some consideration of linguistic issues is a necessary preparation for it. See article.