Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Roadmap for finding Earth-like planets and Phoenix’s first scoop of Martian soil

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 or the nearby star Luyten 1813-21? See article.
g Abodes - ESA is launching a new initiative to develop a roadmap for finding Earth-like planets. Searching for rocky planets around other stars, in the hopes of finding an Earth-like world, is a top scientific goal in ESA's Cosmic Vision program. See article.
g Message - The Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft celebrated their 30th anniversary last fall. They are now past 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 -NASA’s Phoenix lander has lifted its first scoop of Martian soil – and possibly Martian ice -- as a test of the lander's Robotic Arm. See article.
g Learning - A British university has launched a three-year degree course in the hunt for life beyond planet Earth. See article.
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 article.

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