Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jupiter-less solar systems and analyzing biosignatures from the beginning of life

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 GJ 445?
g Abodes -Astronomers have found that fewer than 10 percent of the stars in the Orion Nebula have enough dust to make giant planets. The study suggests that our solar system may have been lucky to form a planet like Jupiter. See article.
g Life - A high-precision atom-counter called NanoSIMS produces maps of key biological atoms and suggests new way to analyze possible biosignatures from the beginning of life. See article.
g Message -The search for extraterrestrial intelligence could be taking the wrong approach. Instead of listening for alien radio broadcasts, a better strategy may be to look for giant structures placed in orbit around nearby stars by alien civilizations. See article.
g Learning -Book alert: Beginning with the Big Bang and formation of the universe, the richly illustrated “Astrobiology” discusses the emergence of life on Earth and beyond. Monica Grady discusses the factors necessary for the development of microorganisms on Earth, including chemical building blocks like carbon and water as well as an atmosphere that protects from ultraviolet radiation. She considers the possibility of life on other planets in the solar system, describing the conditions and diverse habitats that make Mars as well as some of Jupiter's and Saturn's moons ideal candidates for research. In a final chapter she looks beyond the solar system, searching for Earth-like planets or dusty disks of preplanetary material surrounding stars. See reviews.
g Aftermath - We humans are familiar with the back-and-forth of face-to-face contact — something we likely will not have in an interstellar conversation. The timescale of a human life may well not be enough for a meaningful dialogue with another species. Interstellar dialogue may make sense only across generations. See article.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

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