Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fifth planet discovered around 55 Cancri, evolutionary convergence between worlds and lunar inflatable habitats

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 - Astronomers have found evidence that rocky terrestrial planets may be forming around the star HD 23514. This star is similar to our Sun, and is located in the Pleiades star cluster some 400 light years away. See article.
g Abodes - Astronomers have discovered a fifth planet circling the star 55 Cancri – a record number of confirmed planets for a star beyond our Solar System. The new planet is probably similar to Saturn, except that it rests within the 'habitable zone' of its parent star. See article. For related story, see “Astronomers find planet bigger than Earth".
g Life - The question whether nature in an extraterrestrial context steers a predictable course is clearly an open question, but some hints from the basic laws of terrestrial biology (natural selection and a common ancestor for all the Earth biota) can be interpreted as evidence that to a large extent evolution is predictable and not contingent. Indeed, support from independent teams suggests that natural selection overrides the randomness of genetic drift; in other words, natural selection seems to be powerful enough to shape terrestrial organisms to similar ends, independent of historical contingency. See article.
g Intelligence - Humans revel in touch. Touch-spoiled babies grow up healthier; lovers can't keep their hands off each other; and people who master the subtle touch are perceived as friendlier. See article.
g Cosmicus - NASA will be testing a new inflatable habitat in the cold, harsh climate of Antarctica. The habitat is a design that could one day be used on the Moon by human explorers on long-duration missions. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Remote Sensing.” In this lesson, students discover how remote sensing is used to identify the signatures of life even when the particular life form is not directly observable. See article.

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