Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Water ice on Mars and foreign DNA

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 Ross 154?
g Abodes - When NASA's Phoenix lander reached the surface of Mars a week ago, soil was blown away and exposed what may be ice. The existence of water ice, and the potential for liquid water, is important for the existence of life on Mars. See article.
g Life - Scientists have discovered numerous pieces of foreign DNA in the genome of a freshwater animal. The study sheds new light on the mechanisms behind the evolution of life. See article.
g Message - A number of searches for extraterrestrial intelligence actually have occurred, are ongoing and are planned. Here's one of the more famous ones: Project BETA, at Harvard University. See article.
g Cosmicus - Forty years ago, Project Apollo put the first humans on the surface of the Moon. The next time the U.S. launches its astronauts to Earth's natural satellite, they will do so as part of Project Orion. See article.
g Learning - Here's a neat Web site, courtesy of NASA: "Wings over Mars." For grades 5-8, students get to design robotic airplanes to explore and collect data on Mars. See article.
g Aftermath - After its long voyage from Earth across the vast stretches of interstellar space, the space ship finally lands on a planet with an environment compatible with human life. The human space voyagers descend from their ship and encounter a race of intelligent beings native to the planet. Communication is soon established between the two groups, human and alien, of intelligent beings. So might begin a story in the contemporary science fiction genre. Such stories might not seem to have much to do with the question of the nature of language, but there is one aspect of the story that merits our attention, namely, the fact that communication is established. That in itself is remarkable. In real life humans have never succeeded in establishing communication with any other species, at least not in establishing communication in the same way as they do with alien beings in many science fiction stories. In such stories it is often possible to communicate with the aliens as effectively as with a human group who speak another language. Are we to say, then, that these alien beings have language? See article.

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