Thursday, October 25, 2007

Intimate relationship between life and cosmos, communicating in the microwave band and garbage in low orbit

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 - Unlike the other small bodies in the solar system, comets have been known since antiquity. What can comets tell us about the origin of our solar system? See article.
g Life - Book alert: Astrobiology - the study of the intimate relationship between life and the cosmos - is a fast-growing field that touches on aspects of cosmology, astrophysics, and chemistry. In the first scholarly overview of this dynamic field, “Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction,” biochemists Kevin W. Plaxco and Michael Gross tell the story of life from the Big Bang to the present. Emphasizing the biochemical nature of astrobiology, Plaxco and Gross examine the origin of the chemical elements, the events behind the developments that made the Universe habitable, and the ongoing sustenance of life. They discuss the formation of the first galaxies and stars, the diverse chemistry of the primordial planet, the origins of metabolism, the evolution of complex organisms, and the feedback regulation of Earth's climate. They also explore life in extreme habitats, potential extraterrestrial habitats, and the search for extraterrestrial life. See reviews.
g Intelligence - It is clear that most of what we think of as our mental life involves the activities of the nervous system, especially the brain. This nervous system is composed of billions of cells, the most essential being the nerve cells or neurons. There are estimated to be as many as 100 billion neurons in our nervous system. See article.
g Message - The universe is a noisy place, filled with the hiss and crackle of stars being born and dying. There is little escape from this cosmic din, except in one small region of the radio dial — the microwave band. Here, only the faint whimper of the Big Bang breaks the silence, making it a “really good place to communicate,” according to Dan Werthimer of Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, perched close to the stars atop Grizzly Peak. See article. Note: This article is from 2000.
g Cosmicus - The proliferation of garbage in low Earth orbit has reached a point where it will increase in the coming decades even if all rocket launches were canceled starting now, according to research by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. See article.
g Learning - As Shakespeare would say where there is a will there is a way and Mary Beth Wilhelm, a senior at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, Calif., has the will. At the age of ten, when many girls are still playing with toys, Wilhelm pleaded for her parents to buy her a telescope. She had gone to space camp at Ames and that fed her hunger for knowledge on astronomy. At first, her parents thought that the telescope request was a childish whim and she would shortly move on to her next dream for her future. But, that isn't what happened. See article.
g Imagining - Psychologist Frederick Malmstrom believes that “visions” of space aliens are actually the image of the prototypical female face that is hardwired into every baby human's brain. When Malmstrom altered a picture of a woman in a way consistent with the characteristics of a newborn's vision (astigmatism and a shallow focal plane), the result looked very much like a big-eyed alien. See article.
g Aftermath - For some provocative reading, pick up “Sharing the Universe,” by Seth Shostak, at your local bookstore. SETI scientist Shostak almost single-handedly is outlining social and political issues that will arise once we make contact with extraterrestrials. See reviews.