Sunday, April 06, 2008

Water evaporation on Mars and earliest direct evidence of biological material on Earth

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 - The world's thinnest material has been used to study the 'fine structure constant', one of physic's universal constants. This number is important because it underlies reactions in stars that generate carbon - a molecule essential for life. See article.
g Abodes - A team of researchers from the University of Arkansas has measured water evaporation rates under Mars-like conditions, and their findings favor the presence of surface water on the planet. Water on the planet's surface makes the existence of past or present life on Mars a little more likely. See article.
g Life - A U.S. scientist says he has discovered cellulose beneath the New Mexico desert, making it the earliest direct evidence of biological material on Earth. See article.
g Message - Would anyone deliberately beam high-powered signals into space? Can we assume that extraterrestrial societies would broadcast in ways that would mark their location as plainly as a flag on a golf green? See article.
g Learning - "For all positive integers w and y, where w > y, let the operation be defined by w y = 2w+y / 2w-y. For how many positive integers w is w 1 equal to 4?" Questions like that no doubt caused some test takers, in between palpitations, to wonder whether they were any good at math. Girls, especially, might have found their thoughts wandering to the news that just a week earlier, Lawrence H. Summers, president of Harvard University, had said that "intrinsic" differences in aptitude between the sexes might be an important reason that men dominate the science-and-engineering work force. The remarks sparked widespread protests, and Summers quickly apologized. But a growing body of research suggests that there is some truth in his comments. See article.

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