Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Amino acids in asteroids and microbes that could survive on Mars

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 - Matter is constantly falling into the Milky Way's central supermassive black hole, but sometimes enough builds up and gets hot enough to release a big flash. For instance, if humans had an X-ray observatory 300 years ago, we would have seen a giant flash caused by a clump of gas heating up as it fell toward the black hole. See article.
g Abodes - The organic soup that spawned life on Earth may have gotten generous helpings from outer space, according to a new study. Scientists at the Carnegie Institution have discovered concentrations of amino acids in two meteorites that are more than ten times higher than levels previously measured in other similar meteorites. This result suggests that the early solar system was far richer in the organic building blocks of life than scientists had thought, and that fallout from space may have spiked Earth’s primordial broth. See article.
g Life - A class of especially hardy microbes that live in some of the harshest Earthly environments could flourish on cold Mars and other chilly planets, according to a research team of astronomers and microbiologists. See article.
g Cosmicus - In April 2006, NASA announced that it was bringing in University of Arizona astronomy professor and former brigadier general Simon "Pete" Worden to be the director of its NASA Ames Research Center here. Since then, Worden has brought a fresh perspective to the helm of one of NASA's most important research facilities, demonstrated through initiatives such as giving a keynote address to the International Space Development Conference from the virtual world Second Life. (Note: My wife works at Second Life publisher Linden Lab). See article.
g Learning - National Geographic has some great science lesson plans for K-12 teacher son its Web site. One in particular grabbed my attention: It introduces students to the idea that animals prefer certain types of habitats over others and, in fact, cannot live in places that are too different from what they prefer. Students specifically focus on dinosaurs. See lesson plans.

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