Monday, October 06, 2008

Measuring ancient Earth’s air and ‘Are We Alone …?’

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 Abodes -In the first study of its kind, researchers will measure the air pressure from nearly three billion years ago by using gas bubbles in lava and tiny craters made by raindrops. The results could indicate what sort of life may have existed on the ancient Earth. See article.
g Life - MicroRNAs are tiny molecules used to fine-tune how genes are expressed. Now scientists are beginning to understand the early evolution of these important molecules and how they have affected the evolution of life on our planet. See article.
g Message -Never before has so much time and concentrated effort been spent by so many scientists and writers in pursuit of the answer to this fundamental question. In “Are We Alone in the Cosmos? The Search for Alien Contact in the New Millennium”, by Byron Preiss and Ben Bova (editors), major scientists involved in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence explain their work and reveal their thoughts. Joining them are some of the best speculative thinkers, from Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov to Gregory Benford, who address the major philosophical questions involved.
g Cosmicus - Top NASA managers will decide next week the fate of the Mars Science Laboratory, a nuclear-powered astrobiology rover that already has cost $1.5 billion and is likely to hit the 30-percent overrun ceiling that could trigger cancellation by Congress. See article.
g Imagining -Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure then to read Olaf Stapeldon’s classic novel “Star Maker” (1937). See article.
g Aftermath - According to astronomer Allen Tough, even before a signal is detected, six positive consequences will result from the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence, usually called SETI. (1) Humanity's self-image. SETI has enlarged our view of ourselves and enhanced our sense of meaning. Increasingly, we feel a kinship with the civilizations whose signals we are trying to detect. (2) A fresh perspective. SETI forces us to think about how extraterrestrials might perceive us. This gives us a fresh perspective on our society's values, priorities, laws, and foibles. (3) Questions. SETI is stimulating thought and discussion about several fundamental questions. (4) Education. Some broad-gauge educational programs have already been centered around SETI. (5) Tangible spin-offs. In addition to providing jobs for some people, SETI provides various spin-offs, such as search methods, computer software, data, and international scientific cooperation. (6) Future scenarios. SETI will increasingly stimulate us to think carefully about possible detection scenarios and their consequences, about our reply, and generally about the role of extraterrestrial communication in our long-term future. Such thinking leads, in turn, to fresh perspectives on the SETI enterprise itself. Read the full paper.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

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