Monday, September 03, 2007

Solar winds blowing away Martian water, microbes growing in column of mud and aggressive intelligent species

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 - Mars was wet in its early history, but today it appears bone dry other than ice below the surface and at the poles. Astronomers have long wondered where all the water went. The water might have been blown into space long ago by strong gusts of solar winds, new satellite observations suggest. See article.
g Life - The oldest living thing has been discovered in the form of 600,000-year-old bacteria extracted from ice cores, scientists claim. See article.
g Message - In 2001, California astronomers broadened the search for extraterrestrial intelligence with a new experiment to look for powerful light pulses beamed our way from other star systems. Scientists from the University of California's Lick Observatory, the SETI Institute, UC-Santa Cruz, and UC-Berkeley used the Lick Observatory's 40-inch Nickel Telescope with a new pulse-detection system capable of finding laser beacons from civilizations many light-years distant. Unlike other optical SETI searches, this new experiment is largely immune to false alarms that slow the reconnaissance of target stars. See article.
g Cosmicus - The Astrobiology Field Laboratory (also known as AFL), is a proposed NASA unmanned planetary spacecraft to explore the planet Mars. The rover will be built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and will be based upon the Mars Science Laboratory design, but with more astrobiology-oriented instruments. Current plans call for a launch around 2016, most likely by a Atlas V rocket. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: Students will construct a Winogradsky Column to observe the growth of microbes in a column of mud. During this investigation students will develop a hypothesis, record their observations and results and form conclusions. They will compare and contrast their methods during the investigation with those of the astrobiologists performing research in the field and the laboratory. See article.
g Imagining - Would the universe be populated by aggressive intelligent species, such as science fiction’s Alien and Predator? SETI senior astronomer Seth Shostak offers some thoughts.
g Aftermath - Here’s an interesting book for some astrobiological reading: “After Contact: The Human Response to Extraterrestrial Life”by Albert A. Harrison. See reviews.

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