Friday, June 27, 2008

Forty-five potential super-Earths and light curves

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 - What is the habitable zone for the nearby star system Kruger 60 AB?
g Abodes - Astronomers have announced a breakthrough in the field of extra-solar planets. They have identified 45 potential super-Earths, showing that these planets may be present around one out of every three solar-like stars. See article.
g Message - Since the beginning of astronomical observation, science has been viewing light on a curve. In a galaxy filled with thousands of eclipsing binary stars, we've refined our skills by measuring the brightness or intensity of so-called variable star as a function of time. The result is known as a "light curve." Through this type of study, we've discovered size, distance and orbital speed of stellar bodies and refined our ability to detect planetary bodies orbiting distant suns. Here on Earth, most of the time it's impossible for us to resolve such small objects even with the most powerful of telescopes, because their size is less than one pixel in the detector. But new research should let us determine the shape of an object... like a ringed planet, or an orbiting alien space station. 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.
g Aftermath - There is a good deal of apprehension among the general public that samples returned from other worlds such as Mars - just might - contain alien germs capable of turning into a worldwide plague, or at least wreaking havoc with the Earth's natural environment. Beside this fear of "back contamination," there is also a fear of "forward contamination" - the possibility that spacecraft might contaminate the worlds they land on with Earth microbes, destroying scientifically priceless alien lifeforms before we even have a chance to study them. Note: This article is from 1999. See article.

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