Sunday, September 30, 2007

'Even weirder than black holes’, Pi GHz and extremophiles

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 - Researchers from Duke University and the University of Cambridge think there is a way to determine whether some black holes are not actually black. "It would show that nature has surprises even weirder than black holes," says one researcher. See article.
g Abodes - New studies on how gases are expelled from the Earth may change the way scientists view atmospheric formation on the Earth, Mars and Venus. Studying the dynamics of Earth's atmosphere is essential in understanding what makes our planet habitable today. See article.
g Message - Is there any good reason to look for intelligently generated extraterrestrial emissions in the spectrum at Pi GHz or 3.141... GHz. See article.
g Cosmicus - A small capsule the size of a beach ball was stranded in Earth orbit early Tuesday after an attempt to return the craft from space via a revolutionary technique using a nearly 20-mile-long tether. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site for science lovers: “Extremophiles: Can We Live Without Them?” Just 50 years ago tiny microorganisms were found living in environments that would kill all other microorganisms. The site provides an introduction to extremophiles and their unique qualities. See article.
g Imagining - Here’s a neat website that examines aliens in science fiction films. While short on studying the evolution of those aliens, it does discuss how these villainous creatures are a manifestation of our own fears, a nice take on the anthropomorphic bias most people possess regarding alien life.
g Aftermath - Scientists should pay greater attention to discussing the social implications of discovering extraterrestrial life - even though many researchers shy away from the subject because they don't consider it "hard" science. See article.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Swirling disks of dust, communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence and how to impress an alien civilization

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 - Astronomers have determined how far away from its hot stellar neighbors a star must be if a swirling disk of dust around it is to stand a chance of forming planets. See article.
g Intelligence - Several genes with strong associations to schizophrenia have evolved rapidly due to selection during human evolution, according to new research. See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: We shall not cease from exploration /And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time. -T.S. Eliot, 1942
g Learning - Here’s a neat set of online activities, primarily for older teens or young adults, about communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. It helps students learn about SETI while they send one another messages then decode them, as if they were alien civilizations on distant worlds. See article.
g Imagining - Many science fiction story lines involve alien life forms. From a literary prospective, aliens often serve as metaphors for something more familiar. From a practical prospective, they make stories more interesting and TV more eye-catching. But what of scientific accuracy? A professor offers his advice about “How to Build an Alien”.
g Aftermath - One of our natural tendencies when we make contact with strangers is to try to impress them. Sloppy dressers might polish their shoes for a job interview, hopeful suitors will wash their cars for a first date and prospective children-in-law will be on their best behavior in the presence of the parents of their intended. Wouldn’t we want to do the same in our first contact with ET? Lewis Thomas, in his book “Lives of a Cell,” suggests that if we want to impress an alien civilization, we should send "Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again." See article.

Where are the habitable planets, life that doesn't need water and ’Beyond Contact'

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 - In the vast real estate of space, where are the habitable planets? In this lecture, Vikki Meadows describes the clues that tell us if an extrasolar planet would be a good place to call home. See article.
g Life - You know the cliche, wherever we find water here on Earth, we find life. But what if the environment is really hostile - so hostile that any living creature would almost never see water? And even when there was water, they were constantly being blasted with radiation. Amazingly, there's a microbe out there, Deinococcus geothermalis, that can handle some of the harshest environments on the planet - favored habitats include nuclear power plants. Scientists once suspected that microbes like this might have evolved on Mars. Nope, they're homegrown. See article.
g Message - Book alert: In “Beyond Contact: A Guide to SETI and Communicating with Alien Civilizations,” author Brian McConnell examines the science and technology behind the search for intelligent life in space, from the physics of inter-stellar laser and radio communication to information theory and linguistics. If you've ever wondered whether it really would be possible to communicate with other civilizations, you'll want to read this book. For more reviews and sample chapters, see article.
g Cosmicus - If aspiring space tourist Richard Garriott wants advice on living in orbit, he can ask his father, a former NASA astronaut who spent two months aboard the first U.S. space station 24 years ago. See article.
g Learning - Here’s an interesting classroom activity: “Who Can Live Here?” Students explore the limits of life on Earth to extend their beliefs about life to include its possibility on other worlds. See article.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Harlan Ellison’s (ed.) “Medea: Harlan's World” (1985), a symposium on alien creation.
g Aftermath - With humanity now on the verge of being capable to leave its home world, Earth, scientists have begun to wrestle with the consequences of this next great journey; of the social impact humanity will have upon discovering life elsewhere, be it fossil, bacterial or an intelligent civilization. See article.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Oxygen came earlier than thought, hiding one’s sun, and fictional post-Apollo lunar architecture

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 - Oxygen, key to life on Earth today, began to appear on the planet millions of years earlier than scientists had thought, new research indicates. See article.
g Message - Could intelligent beings in another solar system have hidden their sun by knocking their planets apart and using the pieces to build a hollow ball around their sun? Find out more about “Dyson Spheres”.
g Cosmicus - Having just spent four months on a simulated arctic mission to Mars, University of Hawaii scientist Kim Binsted is hoping to be chosen now for the real thing. See article.
g Learning - Astrobiology experts from the University of Glamorgan and Cardiff University have formed a unique research partnership. See article.
g Imagining - Could the legendary dragons of Pern from Anne McCaffrey’s famous science fiction novels actually exist? Welcome to the theoretical science of dracogenetics. See article.
g Aftermath - A 1998 report by the National Research Council Space Studies Board Task Group on Sample Return from Small Solar System Bodies assesses the potential for a living entity to be present in or on samples returned from small solar system bodies such as planetary satellites, asteroids and comets. See article.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Life near Mars' tallest mountain, the ‘Search for Alien Artifacts’ and young children know math and

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 - NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is examining several features on Mars that address the role of water at different times in Martian history. See article.
g Life - A research paper presented in early March at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas, an annual get-together of experts in fields ranging from moon exploration to asteroid detection and astrobiology ignited debate about the prospect of “life” either “having existed,” or maybe even being “present now” in what are thought to be caves on a volcano named Arsia Mons near Mars' tallest mountain. See article.
g Message - In SETI program planning, higher priority should be given in the near-term to those probe and artifact searches which can be carried out quickly and inexpensively, in preference to larger more expensive beacon searches which should be mounted in the decades ahead. See article.
g Cosmicus - A NASA probe blasted into space early today, kicking off an unprecedented mission to explore the two largest asteroids in the solar system. See article.
g Learning - Young children can perform certain kinds of math operations before ever receiving any kind formal math training, a new study reports. See article.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for any of these fine novels by James White: "Hospital Station" (1962), "Star Surgeon" (1963), "Ambulance Ship" (1979), "Sector General" (1983) and "Code Blue–Emergency" (1987).
g Aftermath - Hundreds of astronomers recently learned that life in outer space is likely to lack green eyes and be far more prosaic, tiny and, quite possibly, completely unlike life as we know it. This blunt appraisal came from the University of Washington's Center for Astrobiology and Early Evolution, one of the first programs in the country to give an advanced degree in astrobiology. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Space makes disease bacteria more virulent, mathematics’ role in alien communication and trusting our government with first contact

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 - New measurements reveal Neptune's south pole is warmer than the rest of the planet, as expected. But it's still frigid. See article.
g Life - Recent mass extinctions in North America were caused by one or more extraterrestrial objects - comets or meteorites - that exploded over the Earth or slammed into it, triggering catastrophic climate change, a research team posits. See article.
g Message - Since there is a general agreement that the laws of nature are the same everywhere in our universe, it follows that mathematics must be universal and therefore it must be the same for every intelligent being in the universe. So, a language for SETI communication based on mathematics can be constructed. But the fact that mathematics has turned out to be so strictly entangled with material reality also establishes very sharp limitations to its efficacy for our purposes and the need of an integration with (at least) a pictorial language. See article.
g Cosmicus - Space flight has been shown to change the way disease bacteria behave, making them much more virulent. This has worrying implications for astronauts whose immune systems are already weakened in space. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site courtesy of NASA: “Future Flight Design”. Written for grades 3-7, kids can design air transportation and aircraft systems.
g Imagining - An early “Star Trek” alien is the Thasians, who serve a deux ex machina role in one episode. The Thasians apparently are a noncorporeal life form that gave a human child incredible powers of telekinesis. Such capabilities, as exhibited by the child (now a 17-year-old teenager) appear to stem from within his own physical being, however. The Thasians themselves also are dependent on the physical reality of a spacecraft for traveling beyond their planet. Of course, how a noncorporeal life form might exist is beyond our physical science, though one might suspect it is an organized pattern of electrical impulses, somehow held together and organized without use of a physical platform (such as our brain cells) — though their powers can be transferred to such a platform, as occurs with the boy. Most likely the Thasians did not evolve as noncorporeal life forms but instead, being eons ahead of us in technology, rely on machines (using teleportation-like technology) to do their work; their own beings might be interfaced with such machines so a mere concentrated thought can command it. The Thasians, thus feeling encumbered by physical form, shifted to another dimension — again, more fiction than reality — where the very nature of that space allows the beings (electrical patterns) to remain organized, and perhaps better able to communicate with their machines. Of course, too little was said about the Thasians in the episode, though the boy did note that the Thasians do not “feel” or “touch” in the same way that humans do.
g Aftermath - Would dutiful American citizens trust the government to handle first contact with extraterrestrials and rush to get information to the public? See article. Note: This article is from 1999.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Detecting biomarkers on Mars, expanding bubble of electromagnetic radiation and ‘Voyages Through Time’

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 - Components for a new approach to discover life on Mars are now in low-Earth orbit for 12 days to test their survivability in the space radiation environment. The technology is similar to a pregnancy test, and has the potential to detect trace levels of biomarkers on Mars. See article.
g Message - The Earth is at the center of an expanding bubble of electromagnetic radiation. The bubble, expanding at the speed of light, contains all of the man-made electromagnetic transmissions of the earth - radio, TV, radar and so on. In theory, an alien civilization could receive these signals, and form their opinion about the earth by analyzing them. To most people, it is quite discouraging to think that some alien civilization would form their opinion of Earth based upon our situation comedies. Upon a slightly deeper analysis, the conventional wisdom says, “Aliens might detect our TV signals, but at least they can't form their opinion of our civilization from our TV transmissions. Decoding the transmission is so much harder than detecting it that we don't need to worry about this.” But an editor of the book “SETI 2020” argues that this view considerably underestimates the technologies that aliens might employ. By looking at likely technical improvements - better receivers and feeds, bigger antenna, signal processing, and perhaps stellar focusing, any civilization that can detect our radiations might well be able to decode it as well. Thus aliens can form their impression of Earth from “I Love Lucy.” See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: "...in our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think, how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world." — President Ronald Reagan, United Nations General Assembly, (Sept. 21, 1987)
g Learning - Here’s a neat set of classroom activities for high school students: “Voyages Through Time.” It’s an integrated science curriculum for ninth or tenth grade based on the theme of evolution and delivered on CD-ROM. Its six modules span the breadth of astrobiology research, from cosmic evolution through the evolution of life, and beyond. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Orson Scott Card’s novel “Ender's Game,” published by Tor in 1985.
g Aftermath - In the last quarter of the 20th century, an international social movement — Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence — has emerged which advocates an attempt to achieve communication with extraterrestrial intelligence, and many of its most active members have been leading scientists. Modest efforts to detect radio signals from intelligent extraterrestrials already have been made, both under government aegis and privately funded, and the technical means for a more vigorous search have been developed. If a CETI project were successful, linguists would suddenly have one or more utterly alien languages to study, and some consideration of linguistic issues is a necessary preparation for it. See article.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Orphan stars, radio transmissions from stellar neighborhoods and NASA’s Astrobiology Program

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 - A new study suggest that “orphan” stars - which form in tails of gas that extend well outside their parent galaxy - may be more prevalent than previously thought. If planets can form around these stars, they would find themselves in a truly unique and lonely environment in the space between galaxies. See article.
g Abodes - Earth's twin, Venus, offers life as we know it few safe places on its faint red-glowing surface, which is hot enough to melt lead. But higher in the clouds, small amounts of water and strange ultraviolet absorbers make for a balmy 107 F abode. The Principal Investigator for NASA's Planetary Atmospheres and Venus Data Analysis Program speculates about what might surprise Venusian explorers. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Message - In the search for life on other worlds, scientists can listen for radio transmissions from stellar neighborhoods where intelligent civilizations might lurk or they can try to actually spot planets like our own in habitable zones around nearby stars. Either approach is tricky and relies on choosing the right targets for scrutiny out of the many thousands of nearby stars in our galactic neighborhood. See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: "The Earth is the cradle of the mind, but we cannot live forever in a cradle." - Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
g Learning - Theorizing and model building are one thing; it is another to go out and get data that will support science and the acquisition of new knowledge. For this purpose, NASA has instituted its Astrobiology Program to study the origin, evolution, distribution, and destiny of life in the universe. Existing programs and new endeavors will be brought together in a multidisciplinary fashion to tackle the questions surrounding life's place in the organization of the universe. In so doing, NASA has adopted six canonical questions to use as guideposts as its programs are developed. See article. Note: This article is from 2002.
g Imagining - In Ridley Scott's 1979 slimy monster masterpiece "Alien," the extraterrestrial life form discovered by Sigourney Weaver and crew goes through two startlingly different phases after it hatches. Is such a change during the life of an animal mere sci fi license? Not really. In fact, many earthlings go through similar drastic changes in form. See article. Note: This article is from March 2001.
g Aftermath - Book alert: As many Earthlings already know —including more than 2 million computer users with firsthand experience — our best hope for finding extraterrestrial intelligence might just lie with an ingenious little screensaver. So it's not surprising that “Beyond Contact: A Guide to SETI and Communicating with Alien Civilizations” (by Brian S. McConnell), an introduction to searching for and communicating with intelligent life, begins with some of the details behind UC Berkeley's groundbreaking, massively distributed SETI@home project, which processes intergalactic noise for pennies on the teraflop. But that's just the start of the story. Inventor and software developer Brian McConnell continues with an overview of whether and why we might find something out there, who's doing what to look for it (including the folks at Berkeley), and — once some ET picks up on the other end — what we might say and how we might say it. This last problem, which occupies the final half of the book, proves to be the most thought provoking, and McConnell has put together a methodical, nuts-and-bolts walkthrough of both the challenges involved and how binary code might be enlisted to solve them. See reviews.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Galaxies just passing through, musings on the autumnal equinox and guiding SETI’s efforts

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 dwarf galaxies thought to be our Milky Way's longtime companions are actually relative newcomers to our neighborhood that are just passing through, according to a new study. See article.
g Abodes - Scientists on the Cassini mission are poring through hundreds of images returned from last week’s flyby of Saturn's two-toned moon Iapetus. Pictures show the moon's yin and yang – a white hemisphere resembling snow, and the other as black as tar. See article.
g Life - The study of biodiversity and astrobiology share the common thread of viewing the planet as a whole and attempting to see its future by examining its past. The present moment in history has been characterized as the first time in which one species - humans - are in one way or another 'responsible' for the entire biosphere: changing it, maintaining it, and of course, possibly extinguishing it. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Earth is losing species at a rate not seen for 65 million years, since the extinction of the dinosaurs. As Harvard professor of evolutionary biology, Andrew Knoll, remarked: " [For astrobiology] everything we know about life in the universe comes from life on Earth. In a sense, putting current diversity at peril for those who would like to understand biology as a planetary phenomenon is like burning a library." See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Intelligence - As if awakening from a long slumber, each September the harvest moon rises out of the plain and into our collective consciousness. It's something that people of the land have relied on for guidance through the centuries. See my musings on the autumnal equinox, published during 2003.
g Message - Where would you look for extraterrestrial life? Here’s a paper that helps guide SETI’s efforts. Note: This piece is a decade old.
g Cosmicus - Book alert: If you want to read a book that delves into the potential of bases at the lunar poles, have a look at "Moonrush" by Dennis Wingo.
g Learning - Here’s a neat interactive Web site for kids: “Are Humans All Alone in the Universe?” In the program, kids get to search for ET — and learn some principles of science along the way. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Nick Pollotta and Phil Foglio’s novel “Illegal Alien,” published by TSR in 1988.
g Aftermath - Extraterrestrials might display either or both of two types of altruism: reciprocal altruism and nepotism. In reciprocal altruism, nice-ness is reciprocated with nice-ness, negativity with negativity. Reciprocal altruism is seen, for example, in chimpanzee grooming and food sharing. If Chimp A grooms Chimp B, Chimp A often gets a payback at dinner assuming no more than a couple hours has passed between personal hygiene and meal time. Even reciprocity has its limits such as those imposed by the constraints of memory. In nepotism, by contrast, altruism is extended to one's close relatives, not necessarily with the expectation of direct payback. Rather, by helping relatives, indirectly the altruist also benefits. By increasing the chances that relatives will survive to reproduce, the altruists genes also have an increased chance of being passed on to the next generation, simply because close relatives share a predictable percentage of genes, depending on how closely they are related. Nepotism may be even more common than reciprocal altruism in intelligence beyond Earth. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dots harboring life, search for extraterrestrial probes and space elevators

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 - The Voyager 1 spacecraft, after traveling about 4 billion miles into space, turned around and looked back home. From such a distance, the Earth appeared as a pale blue dot, a single point of light suspended in the vast blackness of space. If aliens from much more distant worlds were to look at our solar system, the Earth, if it could be seen at all, would seem even more tiny and faint. How could they know that dot of light represents a world teeming with life? See article.
g Message - Interstellar spacecraft are superior to electromagnetic wave propagation for extrasolar exploration and communication. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence should include a search for extraterrestrial probes. See article. Note: This article is from 1983.
g Cosmicus - How would a space elevator work? See article. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Learning - "Teacher, why do I need to learn this?" "What’s it good for?" Students ask these questions when faced with content that seems unrelated to their lives. Motivating students is fundamental to promoting achievement in any classroom, even in science, which encompasses the entire natural world, the whole universe. Good questions and quality experiences support science learning for all students, not just those who are already science-friendly. The relatively new discipline of astrobiology asks great questions that intrigue students. See article.
g Aftermath - The scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence is accelerating its pace and adopting fresh strategies. This increases the likelihood of successful detection in the near future. Humanity's first contact with alien intelligence will trigger extraordinary attention from the media, from government authorities, and from the general public. By improving our readiness for contact, especially for security during the first 30 days, we can avoid the most negative scenarios — and also enhance humanity's benefits from this first contact with an alien intelligence. Six potential problem areas include communicating with the media and the public, communicating with scientific colleagues, government control, an assassin or saboteur, well-meaning officials and lawsuits. See article.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Moon mysteries and ‘Where’s ET?’

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 - The moon - linked in myth with goddesses of witchcraft and the hunt, with gods of magic and wisdom - is nearly as old as Earth itself, with enigmas of its own. As close as the moon is to Earth, we are still far from solving all its mysteries, from how the moon was born to whether life on Earth has its past and future there. See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: "All civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct.” – Carl Sagan
g Learning - The fact that you’re confronting this column on a website devoted to space science and astronomy makes you roughly as rare as technetium. Despite the fact that astronomy is one of the two most popular science subjects in American schools (the other is biology), it’s really not that popular. See article.
g Imagining - Book alert: "Extraterrestrials, Where Are They?" by Ben Zuckerman and Michael H. Hart (ed.) offers a critical analysis by leading experts in a range of sciences, of the plausibility that other intelligent life forms do exists. Exploration of the solar system, and observations with telescopes that probe deep space, have come up empty-handed in searches for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Many experts in the fields of astronomy, biology, chemistry and physics now argue that the evidence points to the conclusion that technological civilizations are rare. After 10 billion years and among hundreds of billions of stars, we may well possess the most advanced brains in the Milky Way. This second edition elucidates many new aspects of research on extraterrestrial intelligence life, specifically biological considerations of the question. Read more reviews.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Neon around sun-like stars, Bracewell probes and alien fungal life forms

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 observed neon in disks of dust and gas around distant, sun-like stars. The finding may help scientists narrow in on which stars are more likely to have planet-forming disks. See article.
g Abodes - Imagine trying to learn everything you can about the Earth from a distance of billions or even trillions of kilometers. That's the challenge facing scientists who search for life on worlds orbiting distant stars. See article.
g Message - To contact an alien civilization, humanity might want to consider a Bracewell probe — a hypothetical concept for an autonomous interstellar space probe dispatched for the express purpose of communication with (an) alien civilization(s). It was proposed by Ronald N. Bracewell in a 1960 paper, as an alternative to interstellar radio communication between widely separated civilizations. See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: “The foremost significance of an interstellar flight capability lies in the evolution of the human species as a cosmic force.” — Krafft Ehricke
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site to introduce kids who go ga-ga over movie aliens to the science of astrobiology. See article.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Piers Anthony’s “Omnivore” (1968), which examines fungal life forms.
g Aftermath - Within the scientific community, the question is no longer whether extraterrestrial life exists, but if ET is smart enough to do long division — and the U.S. and other world governments already have detailed secret plans for first contact. My apologies in advanced for Popular Mechanic’s lurid title, but the reporting is sound. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dawn readied for asteroid belt, detecting an extraterrestrial messenger probe already in the solar system and what imagined aliens say about humans

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 - An international team of astronomers might have discovered the missing link in the evolution of the so-called magnetic cataclysmic variable stars. They determined the spin and orbital periods of the binary star Paloma. They found that the Paloma system has a weird way of rotating that fills the gap between two classes of magnetic cataclysmic stars. Their results will soon be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics. See article.
g Abodes - The Dawn spacecraft has been delivered to Cape Canaveral and is ready to begin its mission to the asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. By studying these targets, the mission aims to uncover information about planetary formation. See article.
g Life - Philosophers wrestling with the big questions of life are no longer alone. Now scientists are struggling to define life as they manipulate it, look for it on other planets, and even create it in test tubes. See article.
g Message - How might we detect an extraterrestrial messenger probe already in the solar system? See article. Note: This article is from 1983.
g Cosmicus - "Humanity will not remain on the Earth forever, but in the pursuit of light and space will at first timidly penetrate beyond the limits of the atmosphere, and then will conquer all the space around the Sun." - Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
g Learning - Northrop Grumman Foundation is sponsoring weightlessness flights for teachers. The purpose is to expose teachers to weightlessness such that they can bring the experience back to their students. See article.
g Imagining - Looking for some classic science fiction alien movies? Here’s a fairly exhaustive list, with brief explanations of each. Now in how each one the aliens really are just mythical monsters that play on human psychology (specifically fear or revulsion). Such films really say less about the evolution of potential extraterrestrial lifeforms and civilizations than about the evolution of human beings and our culture. In fact, here’s an essay that examines a specific detail of that notion: “An Exploration of the Relationship Between Science Fiction Film and the UFO Mythology”.
g Aftermath - The good news is that polls continue to show that between one and two-thirds of the public thinks that extraterrestrial life exists. The weird news is that a similar fraction think that some of it is visiting Earth. See article.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Planet near end of its life, ET signals probably are cascading through your body right now and recognizing alien intelligence

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 - Scientists may have solved a discrepancy between the number of extremely small, faint galaxies predicted to exist near the Milky Way and the number actually observed. See article.
g Abodes - For the first time, astronomers have discovered a planet orbiting a star near the end of its life. The finding may yield clues about the distant future of Earth when our own Sun begins to die. See article.
g Life - For a long time, people thought that all organisms made a living pretty much like we do. Which is to say that we thought everything ate. See article.
g Intelligence - It turns out that older men chasing younger women contributes to human longevity and the survival of the species, according to new findings. See article.
g Message - If extraterrestrials are out there, signals that would prove their existence are cascading over your body right now. Needless to say, you don’t notice. The challenge for SETI researchers is to build an instrument that will. Rising to the challenge, the SETI Institute and others are developing new search strategies and telescopes, encouraging some scientists to speculate that a signal detection will occur in the next decade or two. See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: “… the Moon is a harsh mistress.” — Robert A. Heinlein
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web page that asks “What are our chances of actually recognizing an alien intelligence for what it is?” What if ET does not say "Take me to your leader" from an obviously technologically superior spaceship? Will we know if it’s intelligent? It draws in part upon Stanley Weinbaum's famous short story, "A Martian Odyssey.” See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Jayge Carr’s "The Wonderous Works of His Hands," anthologized in “Alien Encounters” (edited by Jan Finder).
g Aftermath - Quote of the Day: "This is the century for the discovery of extraterrestrial life. It is an incredibly exciting time." - Conway Morris

Monday, September 17, 2007

Martian ice ages, broadcasting signals into outer space and how proof of extraterrestrial intelligence might affect humanity’s ‘world’ view

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 - Colorful, intricate shapes in new NASA Hubble Space Telescope images reveal how the glowing gas ejected by dying Sun-like stars evolves dramatically over time. See article.
g Abodes - Wobbles in the rotation of Mars swung the planet into about 40 extreme ice ages in the past 5 million years and allowed thick ice layers to remain far away from the poles, an astronomer says. See article.
g Life - Samples of microorganisms and antibodies will be sent into near-Earth orbit this week and exposed to the extreme conditions of space. Such experiments can indicate whether life could travel in meteorites from one planet to another. See article.
g Message - Since the invention of the radio, humans have been broadcasting signals into outer space. Other civilizations in our galaxy might be doing the same. They might even be deliberately sending out signals to find other civilizations. Someone out there may even be beaming a signal directly at the Earth. See article.
g Cosmicus - Google, the popular Internet search engine, joined with the X Prize Foundation on Thursday to offer up to $30 million in a competition for privately financed groups to reach the moon with robotic rovers. See article.
g Learning - A research team has discovered a part of the brain crucial for counting and performing arithmetic. The new finding could lead to a better understanding of dyscalculia, a psychological disorder that makes it nearly impossible to deal with numbers, much less complicated math. See article. Note: This article is from early 2006.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Lee Killough’s "The Lying Ear," anthologized in “Alien Encounters” (edited by Jan Finder).
g Aftermath - How would proof of extraterrestrial intelligence affect humanity’s “world” view? Astronomer Steve Dick discusses the matter in this transcribed Smithsonian Institute lecture, from 1999.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Creating artificial life, Mega-Channel Extraterrestrial Assay and understanding alien signals

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 - Using observations and theoretical studies, scientists are building a portrait of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ESA's Rossetta spacecraft will rendezvous with the comet in 2014 in order to study the comet's composition in detail. See article.
g Life - At the Los Alamos National Laboratory, scientists are trying to create artificial life. In this interview, Hans Ziock discusses the progress made so far, and the steps that still need to be taken for life to arise in the lab. See article.
g Message - SETI research isn’t limited to a single facility listening to radio signals. Another dimension of the program is The Mega-Channel Extraterrestrial Assay, which searched the Southern Hemisphere's skies briefly during the 1990s. See article.
g Cosmicus - Space science in India has been growing in leaps and bounds with Indian Space Research Organisation focusing on moon research and India launching the AstroSat, a multi-wavelength astronomy satellite, next year. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of DiscoverSchool.com: “Extraterrestrials.” In the activity, a digital radio message, intended to alert any intelligent life in space to the existence of intelligent life on Earth, has been electronically transmitted into space by the Arecibo radio dish in Puerto Rico. Students must ensure the message is effective by showing that the senders (humans from Earth) are capable of advanced thinking — but it must not depend on the ability of extraterrestrials to understand any Earth language. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Cherry Wilder’s "The Ark of James Carlyle," published in “New Writers in SF 24” (1974).
g Aftermath - How would humans react the day after ET landed? A nationwide survey by the Roper Organization in 1999 found that the following: “...one out of four Americans think most people would “totally freak out and panic” if such evidence were confirmed. See article.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Planetary system survives star's chaotic death throes, quantum internet and real vs. artificial communications with ET

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 - A newly expanded image of the Helix nebula lends a festive touch to the fourth anniversary of the launch of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. This spectacular object, a dying star unraveling into space, is a favorite of amateur and professional astronomers alike. Spitzer has mapped the expansive outer structure of the six-light-year-wide nebula, and probed the inner region around the central dead star to reveal what appears to be a planetary system that survived the star's chaotic death throes. See article.
g Abodes - A day on Saturn just got a few minutes shorter, if new calculations are correct. See article.
g Intelligence - While humans may pride themselves on being highly evolved, most still behave like the stereotypical Neanderthals when it comes to choosing a mate, according to research by Indiana University cognitive scientist Peter Todd. In a new study, Todd and colleagues found that though individuals may claim otherwise, beauty is the key ingredient for men while women, the much choosier of the sexes, leverage their looks for security and commitment. See article.
g Message - The Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts, or SETA, is about delineating between the artificial and the real. In the case of radio detection from other stellar systems, the artificial is what is labeled the real signal that intelligent communications are on-air. See article. Note: This article is a couple of years old.
g Cosmicus - Physicists at the University of Michigan have coaxed two separate atoms to communicate with a sort of quantum intuition that Albert Einstein called "spooky." See article.
g Learning - "In the Shadow of the Moon," a new documentary that opens this week in New York and Los Angeles, tells the human stories of NASA's former Apollo astronauts - now in their 70s - who circled or landed on Earth's nearest neighbor between 1968 and 1972. See article.
g Imagining - Bad news for the NASA Administrator - the Space Shuttle has blown up again. But this time the cause is not foam-fretted tiles, it's alien hitch-hikers. That's right: aggressive extraterrestrials have bummed a rocket ride to Earth to take over our planet. It's a familiar theme, indeed, but there's a silver lining to this interstellar cloud: the invaders are doing it for your own good. See article.
g Aftermath - Even if the public seems less than awestruck by the prospect that alien life is a bunch of microscopic bugs, astrobiologists say unequivocal discovery of microbial life beyond Earth will change human society in profound ways, some unfathomable today. See article. Note: This article is from 2001.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Space-time distortions around neutron stars, pulse-detection system and Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence

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 - Using European and Japanese/NASA X-ray satellites, astronomers have seen Einstein's predicted distortion of space-time around three neutron stars, and in doing so they have pioneered a groundbreaking technique for determining the properties of these ultradense objects. See article.
g Life - Plant geneticists and animal breeders alike know the problem: single individuals or entire broods will not thrive, some die early, or remain, even if they survive, the runts of the litter and thus not useful for continued breeding programs. What is annoying for the breeder, fascinates geneticists and molecular biologists. The unfit offspring are an example that genetic material cannot always be combined at will. See article.
g Intelligence - Apes bite and try to break a tube to retrieve the food inside while children follow the experimenter's example to get inside the tube to retrieve the prize, showing that even before preschool, toddlers are more sophisticated in their social learning skills than their closest primate relatives, according to a report published in the 7 September issue of the journal Science. 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 - As the 21st century gets underway, the impact of space activities upon the welfare of humanity only will increase. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat set of lessons, designed for at-risk students: “The Plausibility of Interstellar Communication and Related Phenomena Depicted in Science Fiction Literature and the Movies.” The curriculum has four major objectives: first, to educate students to develop concepts about the proximity of our solar system in relation to other probable solar systems in the Milky Way Galaxy; second, to give students the opportunity to use these concepts to evaluate the plausibility of interstellar communication depicted in science fiction literature and movies; third, to create an opportunity for students not only to look out on the universe but to turn it inward to look at the world, their own society, and themselves as individuals; and fourth, an objective that will be integrated with all of the others is to give students to opportunity to learn and/or sharpen skills in: using the scientific method, research, reading, writing, collaboration, discussion and in critical thinking. See article.
g Imagining - Scientifically speaking, are UFOs worth keeping an eye on? Not exactly. See article.
g Aftermath - In the last quarter of the 20th century, an international social movement — Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence — has emerged which advocates an attempt to achieve communication with extraterrestrial intelligence, and many of its most active members have been leading scientists. Modest efforts to detect radio signals from intelligent extraterrestrials already have been made, both under government aegis and privately funded, and the technical means for a more vigorous search have been developed. If a CETI project were successful, linguists would suddenly have one or more utterly alien languages to study, and some consideration of linguistic issues is a necessary preparation for it. See article.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Alfven waves, introduction to astrobiology and why visiting ET will be enormously ahead of us in technology

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 - Scientists for the first time have observed elusive oscillations in the Sun's corona, known as Alfven waves, that transport energy outward from the surface of the Sun. The discovery is expected to give researchers more insight into the fundamental behavior of solar magnetic fields, eventually leading to a fuller understanding of how the Sun affects Earth and the solar system. See article.
g Life - A new theory about how ancient life on Earth responded to elevated CO2 levels may change the way scientists view one of the largest mass extinctions in history. The theory could also yield clues about the future of present day life on our planet in the face of climate change. See article.
g Intelligence - Neuroscientists from MIT and Johns Hopkins University have used converging evidence from brain imaging and behavioral studies to show that the adult visual cortex does indeed reorganize--and that the change affects visual perception. See article.
g Message - The Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are celebrating their 30th anniversary this fall. They are now approaching the edge of the Solar System, continuing to collect scientific data and carrying their famous golden records – which contain sounds and images of Earth – into interstellar space. See article.
g Cosmicus - The Boeing Company has been awarded a NASA contract valued at approximately $514.7 million to produce the upper stage of the Ares I crew launch vehicle. This element provides the navigation, guidance, control and propulsion required for the ascent of the second-stage Ares I into low-Earth orbit. See article.
g Learning - Here’s the ultimate Website for an introduction to astrobiology. “Astrobiology: The Living Universe” is a comprehensive and educational guide to life on Earth and beyond. This site features sections on the chemical origin of life, evolution, planetary biology, the search for extraterrestrial life, supporting humans in space and exobiology. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s “The Mote In God's Eye,” published by Simon & Shuster in 1974.
g Aftermath - Movie aliens often are like distant relatives: They resemble us in an unpleasant sort of way. This is hardly a surprise. Hollywood creates characters that audiences can identify with, and that’s why its aliens are so anthropomorphic (and why Donald Duck looks more like a human than a duck.) But appearances aside, cinema aliens have another implausible attribute: they’re nearly always at our level of technical sophistication. We frequently trade gunfire with them or chase them around in dogfights. This is silly, of course. Any beings capable of bridging the vast distances between the stars would be able to clean our clock when it comes to science and engineering. Visitors from other worlds — should any appear — would be enormously ahead of us from a technological viewpoint. See article. Note: This article is from 2000.

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.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Nine of the smallest galaxies ever seen, ETs on ice worlds and help discover alien life

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 - NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have joined forces to discover nine of the smallest, faintest, most compact galaxies ever observed in the distant universe. Blazing with the brilliance of millions of stars, each of the newly discovered galaxies is 100 to 1,000 times smaller than our Milky Way galaxy. See article.
g Life - New research in Antarctica has revealed cells that might repair their DNA at extremely cold temperatures and, in doing so, could effectively be “immortal.” If confirmed, the findings would have implications for the potential for life in the ice of worlds like Mars and Europa. See article.
g Message - Want to help SETI discover alien life? If you haven’t already done so, download the free SETI at Home software. Using Internet-connected computers, the program downloads and analyzes radio telescope data on your desktop when it is idle. The program has been so successful in plowing through data that other scientific researchers, especially in medicine, are adopting it to their fields.
g Cosmicus - Cassini will make its only close flyby of Saturn's odd, two-toned, walnut-shaped moon Iapetus on Monday at about 1,000 miles from the surface. This flyby will be 100 times closer than Cassini's 2004 encounter, and will be the last time the spacecraft will aim its instruments at this moon. See article.
g Learning - Although exobiology is of widespread interest to high school science students, it is not generally dealt with comprehensively in most textbooks. In addition, teachers often have inadequate resources available to prepare classroom presentations on how life may have begun on Earth and whether these processes might take place elsewhere in the solar system and the universe. Here’s a classroom teaching module suitable for use in both general and advanced high school biology courses.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Ray Bradbury’s "Here There Be Tygers,” which appeared in the April-May 1953 issue of Amazing magazine.
g Aftermath - What would an intelligent signal from another planet change about human destiny? This large question is the topic of the book "The SETI Factor," by Frank White, who also analyzes how to announce such an historic finding and whether it would unite or divide nations. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Volcanoes help ensure oxygen-breathing life, defining living organisms and ergonomics for extraterrestrials

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 switch from predominantly undersea volcanoes to a mix of undersea and terrestrial ones shifted the Earth's atmosphere from devoid of oxygen to one with free oxygen, according to geologists. See article.
g Life - We create life, we search for it, we manipulate and revere it. Is it possible that we haven't yet defined the term? See article.
g Message - Nobody has yet seen an extraterrestrial, which may sound like a problem in establishing a science of astrobiology. But in the past 20 years or so, scientists have found clues that life may be quite common in the universe, and many are hopeful that they will soon find hard evidence of life beyond Earth. See article. Note: This article is from autumn 2006.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: ”It is mankind's destiny to leave Earth and spread throughout the universe. As a creature of the highest consciousness, he will replace the chaos of the universe with his unifying structure.” - Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity, courtesy of NASA: “Ergonomics For Extraterrestrials,” in which students develop an extraterrestrial life form, and to create a workstation that accommodates its unique characteristics. See article.
g Imagining - Looking for some classic science fiction alien movies? Here’s a fairly exhaustive list, with brief explanations of each. Now in how each one the aliens really are just mythical monsters that play on human psychology (specifically fear or revulsion). Such films really say less about the evolution of potential extraterrestrial lifeforms and civilizations than about the evolution of human beings and our culture.
g Aftermath - If some day we detect a radio signal from a distant civilization, we’ll have to make some adjustments in the way we view ourselves. After millennia of knowing of no other intelligence in the universe than humankind, we could face a considerable challenge to our terrestrial egotism. In the process, will we simply gain a little healthy humility about our place in the universe? Or would it be downright humiliating to compare our own meager accomplishments with those of more advanced extraterrestrials? See article. Note: This article is from November 2000.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

ExoMars mission, extremophile bacteria living in NASA clean rooms and studying the Moon

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 - The European Space Agency's ExoMars mission will seek evidence of organic compounds of biological and non-biological origin at the Martian surface. One of the instruments in the Pasteur payload may be a Life Marker Chip that utilizes an immunoassay approach to detect specific organic molecules or classes of molecules. See article.
g Life - A recent study has found hardy extremophile bacteria living in clean rooms at NASA. Some of the organisms are species that have never been detected anywhere else. The findings could help scientists understand how to keep spacecraft clean and prevent the transfer of Earth life to other planets. See article.
g Message - When does asking the right questions tell more than necessarily knowing the right answers? Perhaps when crossing the fertile boundary between biology and astronomy. See article.
g Cosmicus - Scientists hope a $6.5 million grant from NASA will help them to develop the technology that will help improve future Mars mission trips. See article.
g Learning - Be sure to check out Ken Murphy’s essay at adAstra: “Unlike many in my generation, I've never been particularly enamored of Mars. I don’t dislike it, but my interest has long been our Moon, such a tantalizingly close destination right there in the sky. Looking for a niche in the space field after graduate school, I decided to try to become the most knowledgeable person of my generation with regards to the Moon. It seemed the perfect Gen. X slacker goal - I'm part of a small demographic, studying a relatively esoteric (for my generation) topic. How hard could it be?” See article.
g Imagining - Among the earliest Star Trek alien races that were exact duplicates of homo sapiens were the Beta III humanoids (at site, click on click on “Spock and Kirk fire”; look for orange robed man). But the chance of extraterrestrials looking exactly like us is nil. Why? A note here: The Beta III humanoids show up fairly late in Star Trek’s very first season; until that episode, the series was quite conscious of at least making humanoid aliens different in shape and color — or at least producing an excuse, such as the aliens “assumed” human form for some nefarious purpose. With this race, however, exact duplication of Homo sapiens becomes commonplace in the show.
g Aftermath - If we establish communication with a civilization even as close as 100 light years from Earth, the round-trip time for a message and its reply is 200 years. What will be the psychology of a civilization that can engage in a meaningful conversation with this sort of delay? How is such a conversation to be established? What should the content of such a conversation be? See article.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Asteroid Belt breakup event, DNA from 500,000-year-old living bacteria and projections for signal detection

Welcome to the 1000th post of “Alien Life”! This blog 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 - The impactor believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs and other life forms on Earth some 65 million years ago has been traced back to a breakup event in the main asteroid belt. See article.
g Life - Researchers have discovered DNA from living bacteria that are more than half a million years old. The finding could provide an important insight into ancient life on Earth and the evolution of life throughout history. See article.
g Message - If extraterrestrials are out there, signals that would prove their existence are cascading over your body right now. Needless to say, you don’t notice. The challenge for SETI researchers is to build an instrument that will. Rising to the challenge, the SETI Institute and others are developing new search strategies and telescopes, encouraging some scientists to speculate that a signal detection will occur in the next decade or two. See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: "There are so many benefits to be derived from space exploration and exploitation; why not take what seems to me the only chance of escaping what is otherwise the sure destruction of all that humanity has struggled to achieve for 50,000 years?" – Isaac Asimov
g Learning - The fact that you’re confronting this column on a Web site devoted to space science and astronomy makes you roughly as rare as technetium. Despite the fact that astronomy is one of the two most popular science subjects in American schools (the other is biology), it’s really not that popular. See article. Note: This column is from early 2007.
g Imagining - When science fiction writers set out to design a world, they usually take care that their physics and astronomy conforms to known science by reading a few physics and astronomy books. But when designing aliens, anything goes, it seems! The problem appears to be that the literature of biology is simply unknown in the SF world. Mention Freeman Dyson or Robert Forward, and most hard SF readers and writers will know whom you are talking about. But mention Steven Vogel or Colin Pennycuick, and you are likely to be rewarded with polite bafflement. Here’s a list of books that’ll give you a solid grounding in biology. See article.
g Aftermath - How would humans react the day after ET landed? A nationwide survey by the Roper Organization in 1999 found that the following: “...one out of four Americans think most people would “totally freak out and panic” if such evidence were confirmed. See article. Note: This article is from 1999.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Analogue for Martian springs, Frank Drake interview and why we need 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 - Is the biogeochemistry of hypersaline springs supporting a mid-continent marine ecosystem an analogue for Martian springs? See article.
g Life - Astrobiology Magazine recently interviewed Dr. Baruch Blumberg about hepatitis B, his current research, and the role of viruses in the evolution of life on Earth. See article.
g Message - Here’s a neat piece: an interview with Frank Drake, the astronomer and pioneer who flipped the "on" switch for Project Ozma, the first modern “SETI” project. See article. Note: The interview is from April 2000.
g Cosmicus - Why do the United States and NASA need astrobiology? An astrobiologist answers. Note: This article is from 2006.
g Learning - If science communications in astrobiology is about researchers sharing their results, the audience for new findings may well turn out to be a surprising finding in itself. John Horack, one of the principal Internet architects for how a Webby-award winning NASA site found its audience, explains new ways to view the problem of sharing science. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Harlan Ellison’s (ed.) “Medea: Harlan's World” (1985), a symposium on alien creation.
g Aftermath - Some of the best discussion of the consequences of alien contact occurs in science fiction. Here’s a novel that ranks among the most important in that dialogue: Arthur C. Clark’s “Songs of a Distant Earth.” Look for it at your library or local used book store.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

NASA’s latest mission to Mars, three SETI fallacies and Astronomy Online

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 - Phoenix, NASA’s latest mission to Mars, will land in the planet’s northern polar region. It will dig down into the permafrost, which lies just below the surface, and look for signs of past habitability. See article.
g Life - Dinosaurs had sex well before they reached full physical maturity, just as crocodiles and people can, research now reveals. See article.
g Message - Many common ideas about SETI just aren’t true, but that doesn't prevent them from popping up in popular articles, blogs, books and even movies. Here are three of my favorite fallacies about SETI. See article.
g Cosmicus - The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the latest U.S. mission to Mars — the Phoenix Mars Lander — has passed two in-flight checks. See article.
g Learning - Astronomy Online provides a wealth of resources and information for teachers, students, or anyone interested in astronomy. The content is arranged into nine broad categories including Observation, Science, Solar System, Stars, Our Galaxy, Cosmology, Astrobiology, Exoplanets, and Astrophotography. See review.
g Imagining - Ever wondered how all those traditional space-opera and epic-fantasy races - the pig-faced warriors, the smug bumheads, and all the rest - came up with their wonderfully clich├ęd alien vocabularies? It's not difficult; once you've mastered these basic rules, you'll be able to produce names and phrases just as stereotypical as theirs. See article.
g Aftermath - How will an alien visit influence the world’s religions? Here’s one common man’s view.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Astrobiology Field Laboratory, psychedelic octopus and theological implications of extraterrestrial life

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 conceptual payload and mission scenario for the proposed NASA Mars mission known as the Astrobiology Field Laboratory, which will be equipped to perform state-of-the-art tests on samples collected from the Martian surface to answer fundamental questions about life in the universe, is described in a report in the August 2007 issue of Astrobiology.
g Life - Several strange creatures including a psychedelic octopus have been found in frigid waters off Antarctica in one of the world’s most pristine marine environments. See article. Note: This article is from early 2007.
g Message - Interstellar spacecraft are superior to electromagnetic wave propagation for extrasolar exploration and communication. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence should include a search for extraterrestrial probes. See article. Note: This article is from 1983.
g Cosmicus - Will tourism be what propels humanity into becoming a space-faring species? See article.
g Learning - Although exobiology is of widespread interest to high school science students, it is not generally dealt with comprehensively in most textbooks. In addition, teachers often have inadequate resources available to prepare classroom presentations on how life may have begun on Earth and whether these processes might take place elsewhere in the solar system and the universe. Here’s a classroom teaching module suitable for use in both general and advanced high school biology courses.
g Imagining - What is panspermia, a concept that appears in a number of science fiction stories, and how plausible is it? See article.
g Aftermath - Book alert: “Many Worlds: The New Universe, Extraterrestrial Life, and the Theological Implications,” by Steven J. Dick (ed.), is a provocative collection examining science's impact on theology. Based on a 1998 conference sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, this collection of essays opens with the observation that the Copernican revolution looks insignificant when compared to the discoveries made about the earth and the universe in the last century: we now know, for example, that the universe is billions (not thousands) of light-years big; that it is expanding, not static; that our galaxy is just one of many, not the entirety of the universe. But from looking at modern theology, you wouldn't think anything had changed. The contributors (who include physicists, philosophers, historians of science, and theologians) suggest that cosmological advances might reshape the very fundamentals of theology. Paul C.W. Davies argues that if the universe turns out to be biofriendly (i.e., if given enough time and the right conditions, life will emerge as a matter of course), scientifically savvy thinkers may be compelled to reject atheism and embrace intelligent design theory. The contributors are especially interested in extraterrestrial life: philosopher Ernan McMullin, for example, argues that extraterrestrial intelligence will force Christians to do some hard thinking about original sin, the human soul, and the Incarnation. Read more.