Sunday, September 09, 2007

ExoMars mission, extremophile bacteria living in NASA clean rooms and studying the Moon

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 - The European Space Agency's ExoMars mission will seek evidence of organic compounds of biological and non-biological origin at the Martian surface. One of the instruments in the Pasteur payload may be a Life Marker Chip that utilizes an immunoassay approach to detect specific organic molecules or classes of molecules. See article.
g Life - A recent study has found hardy extremophile bacteria living in clean rooms at NASA. Some of the organisms are species that have never been detected anywhere else. The findings could help scientists understand how to keep spacecraft clean and prevent the transfer of Earth life to other planets. See article.
g Message - When does asking the right questions tell more than necessarily knowing the right answers? Perhaps when crossing the fertile boundary between biology and astronomy. See article.
g Cosmicus - Scientists hope a $6.5 million grant from NASA will help them to develop the technology that will help improve future Mars mission trips. See article.
g Learning - Be sure to check out Ken Murphy’s essay at adAstra: “Unlike many in my generation, I've never been particularly enamored of Mars. I don’t dislike it, but my interest has long been our Moon, such a tantalizingly close destination right there in the sky. Looking for a niche in the space field after graduate school, I decided to try to become the most knowledgeable person of my generation with regards to the Moon. It seemed the perfect Gen. X slacker goal - I'm part of a small demographic, studying a relatively esoteric (for my generation) topic. How hard could it be?” See article.
g Imagining - Among the earliest Star Trek alien races that were exact duplicates of homo sapiens were the Beta III humanoids (at site, click on click on “Spock and Kirk fire”; look for orange robed man). But the chance of extraterrestrials looking exactly like us is nil. Why? A note here: The Beta III humanoids show up fairly late in Star Trek’s very first season; until that episode, the series was quite conscious of at least making humanoid aliens different in shape and color — or at least producing an excuse, such as the aliens “assumed” human form for some nefarious purpose. With this race, however, exact duplication of Homo sapiens becomes commonplace in the show.
g Aftermath - If we establish communication with a civilization even as close as 100 light years from Earth, the round-trip time for a message and its reply is 200 years. What will be the psychology of a civilization that can engage in a meaningful conversation with this sort of delay? How is such a conversation to be established? What should the content of such a conversation be? See article.