Saturday, February 02, 2008

Ammonia as a solvent for life and wind-driven geology

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 high-resolution images of wind-driven geology on Mars show unique formations that could yield clues about the history of Mars' atmosphere. Because Mars' current atmosphere is very thin, the unique features may have formed in the past when wind speeds and atmospheric pressure were higher. See article.
g Life - All currently known terrestrial life requires water as a solvent. It is sometimes assumed that water is the only suitable chemical to fill this role. Some of the properties of water that are important for life processes include a large temperature range over which it is liquid, a high heat capacity useful for temperature regulation, a large heat of vaporization, and the ability to dissolve a wide variety of compounds. There are other chemicals with similar properties that have sometimes been proposed as alternatives, ammonia being the most commonly proposed alternative. 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. See article.
g Cosmicus - Researchers from Carnegie Mellon and NASA are using robotic technologies to investigate the Atacama Desert of Chile. They are trying to understand how life survives in the driest desert on Earth. In doing so, they are shaping the future of robotic astrobiology. See article.

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