Saturday, November 10, 2007

Comet’s ion tail, flying to the moon and a brief introduction to astrobiology

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 - A chance encounter between spacecraft Ulysses and Comet McNaught's ion tail has scientists in the University of Michigan's College of Engineering marveling at a stroke of luck and some surprising data. See article. For related stories, see “Dazzling comet outburst continues to mystify” and “Did a collision cause comet's mysterious outburst?”.
g Cosmicus - Here’s a good editorial from the Guardian, “In praise of ... flying to the moon”.
g Learning - Book alert: Is there anybody out there? Is ET trying to phone home? In the past decade or so, astrobiology has come of age. Once regarded as a laughing stock - physicists turned Roswell freaks - astrobiologists are increasingly greatly in number. Their subject is one of the few that has actually seen an increase in funding in recent years. Astrobiology blends astronomy, chemistry, and biology to search for amino acids and other building blocks of life. Practitioners seek new planets beyond our solar system, to seek out new life forms, to boldly go... Questions are posed, such as whether all life must be carbon based, whether only Earthlike planets can support life, and whether there "can be life, Jim, but not as we know it." “Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction”, by Kevin W. Plaxco and Michael Gross, is probably the first serious yet accessible book written on the subject. Plaxco is a chemist, Gross a molecular biologist and popular science writer.