Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hungry black holes, early speculations about contacting ET and first contact fiction

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 - Two University of Hawaii astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope believe they have identified what makes at least some quasars shine: the black hole at the center of a massive galaxy with little gas of its own is gobbling up material from a colliding gas-rich galaxy. The merging of two galaxies has long been thought to be an efficient way of driving gas deeply into a galaxy to feed the central black hole, but there was only indirect evidence for such a mechanism until now. See article.
g Abodes - Mars rover scientists have launched a new long-term study on the Martian atmosphere with the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, an instrument that was originally developed at the University of Chicago. See article.
g Life - Scientists have tentatively identified a possible culprit in the mysterious disappearance of honeybees, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. A recently discovered virus may be the cause, or at least a contributing factor. See article.
g Intelligence - Researchers have long attempted to unravel the cryptic code used by the neurons of the brain to represent our visual world. By studying the way the brain rapidly and precisely encodes natural visual events that occur on a slower timescale, a team of Harvard bioengineers and brain scientists from the State University of New York have moved one step closer towards solving this riddle. See article.
g Message - The earliest speculations about communication with extraterrestrial intelligence involved contact with the Moon and with other planets of our own solar system. In the 1800s, many astronomers thought that — at least theoretically — life might well exist throughout the solar system. But when people raised the question of whether we are really alone in the solar system, they began to imagine ways to find a very concrete answer. See article.
g Cosmicus - While the space shuttle fleet continues its countdown to retirement, Kennedy Space Center teams are already at work to transition the Florida spaceport into the home of the Ares rocket family that promises to carry astronauts to the moon by the end of the next decade. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Alien Safari.” New from NASA PlanetQuest, Alien Safari can be used in your classrooms or informal education settings to help kids discover some of the most extreme organisms on our planet, and find out what they are telling astrobiologists about the search for life beyond Earth.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read David Brin’s short story "Fortitude." It appeared in the January 1996 issue of Science Fiction Age magazine.
g Aftermath - What affect would the discovery of alien life have on the story-telling genre that inspires the search for it — science fiction? See article.

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