Sunday, August 31, 2008

Organic molecule around an exoplanet and sequencing the genome of a primitive animal

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 - Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have been able to detect the chemical signature of methane in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a star 63 light-years away. It's the first detection of an organic molecule around an exoplanet, a planet outside our solar system. The observations also confirmed previous work that detected the presence of water in the atmosphere. See article.
g Life - In sequencing the genome of a primitive animal, scientists are gaining new insights into the tree of life. Even though it’s a simple animal, Trichoplax adhaerens has a complex set of genes and may signify a branching point in animal evolution. See article.
g Message -What would be a sign of alien intelligence? Forget mathematics — try a simple, pure-tone radio signal. See article.
g Aftermath - The recent Hollywood movie “War of the Worlds” by Steven Spielberg is garnering much attention, but it's nothing like that accorded the 1938 radio version of H.G. Wells' novel. The extent of the panic that broadcast caused is still debated. So what really happened that night? See article.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Exploring other worlds’ polar caps and building a better creature for Spore

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 -A new method of exploring thick icy sheets and what lies below them has been devised. Combining a drill and a melting tip, this probe is particularly useful for exploring icy locations such as the polar caps of Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa. See article.
g Life -The odds are improving that life exists beyond Earth. See article.
g Intelligence -Scientists working in Brazil say they've found the remnants of several clusters of towns built as long as seven centuries ago. See article.
g Message -Although the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence has yet to detect a signal, the efforts continue because so little of the possible parameter space has been searched so far. See article.
g Learning -Few video games have been as eagerly anticipated as Spore, an evolution-inspired game and the latest creation of The Sims and SimCity creator Will Wright. See article.
g Imagining -With “Spore’s” highly anticipated release Sept. 7, the National Geographic Channel will be releasing a companion documentary called, “How to Build a Better Being.” Which delves deeper into the development of the game’s core mechanics and what they have to do with genetic research and bioengineering. See article.
g Aftermath - Picture Jodie Foster, her eyes closed and a mildly bored look on her face. She’s wearing earphones and listening to the dull roar of the cosmos. Now imagine Jodie 20 seconds later, when she hears something sounding like an unpleasant accident in the Boston Pops’ percussion section. Jodie knows she’s scored big: The aliens are on the air. Still, how can she be sure she’s picked up intelligence, and not just the cosmic gurgle of a completely natural object? How can she know she’s not merely harkening to the ticking beat of a pulsar, the whoosh of a quasar, or perhaps the lasing bray of a molecular gas cloud? See article.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Friday, August 29, 2008

Crossing the fertile boundary between biology and astronomy and high-resolution topographical maps of locations inour solar system

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 Message -When does asking the right questions tell more than necessarily knowing the right answers? Perhaps when crossing the fertile boundary between biology and astronomy. See article.
g Cosmicus -Researchers are using images of solar system bodies in different lighting conditions to produce high-resolution topographical maps of locations like asteroids. The maps could help in exploration and the search for life in the solar system. See article.
g Learning -Lake Placid High School biology teacher Tammy Morgan spent 10 days this summer in Canada’s Northwest Territory studying astrobiology and learning lessons she will try to impart to her students this fall. See article.
g Aftermath - Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence depends as much upon social support for the project as upon appropriate engineering design and upon the actual existence of a nearby extrasolar civilization. The results of a sociological survey of 1,465 American college students provide the first detailed analysis of the social and ideological factors that influence support for CETI, thereby suggesting ways that support might be increased. Linked to the most idealistic goals of the space program, notably interplanetary colonization, enthusiasm for CETI is little affected by attitudes toward technology or militarism. Few sciences or scholarly fields encourage CETI, with the exceptions of anthropology and astronomy. Support is somewhat greater among men than among women, but the sex difference is far less than in attitudes toward space flight in general. Evangelical Protestantism, represented by the "Born Again" movement, strongly discourages support for CETI. Just as exobiology begins with an understanding of terrestrial biology, exosociology on the question of how interstellar contact can be achieved should begin with serious sociological study of factors operating on our own world. See article.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Environment of Enceladus and physical contact between alien civilizations

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 -NASA's Cassini spacecraft has pinpointed where Enceladus' icy jets erupt from at the moon's surface. The new images may help reveal what type of environment exists on the moon, and whether or not Enceladus could be a habitat for life. See article.
g Message -Interstellar communication took a giant leap forward when a Ukrainian space center sent several messages across the cosmos hoping to reach extraterrestrials 30-40 light years away. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Learning -Astrobiology, the study of life as a planetary phenomenon, aims to understand the fundamental nature of life on Earth and the possibility of life elsewhere. To achieve this goal,
astrobiologists have initiated unprecedented communication among the disciplines of astronomy, biology, chemistry, and geology. Astrobiologists also use insights from information and systems theory to evaluate how those disciplines function and interact. The fundamental questions of what “life” means and how it arose have brought in broad philosophical concerns, while the practical limits of space exploration have meant that engineering plays an important role as well. See article.
g Aftermath - It was not suggested outside of science fiction — and there only after the 1890s — that extraterrestrials might come to Earth, except for a few believers in interplanetary spirit travel by mortals (an idea now well established among occultists). Among these was the well-known Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck, who, in what was perhaps the earliest conception of ETs as “gods from outer space,” reasoned that since no beings from other worlds have used their advanced science to abolish suffering on Earth, “Is there not reason to fear that we are forever alone in the universe, and that no other world has ever been more intelligent or better than our own?” But this, the first serious “Where are they?” argument, was not known to the general public and in any case would not have carried weight, since it depended on the concept of disembodied spirits. Physical contact between worlds was not thought possible outside of fiction. See article.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Martian dust and life so unusual that we cannot figure out how it dies

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 -NASA's Phoenix lander has taken the first image of Martian dust under a microscope. The technology will help scientists determine if Mars is, or ever was suitable for life. The achievement also highlights the capabilities of robotic microscopy on another planet. See article.
g Life - Imagine a form of life so unusual that we cannot figure out how it dies. That’s exactly what researchers are finding beneath the floor of the sea off Peru. The microbes being studied there — single-celled organisms called Archaea — live in time frames that can perhaps best be described as geological. See article.
g Message -When the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft were launched in 1977, they each included a gold-plated phonograph record (a "golden record") of natural sounds, greetings in human voices, and a variety of music. The record cover has symbolic instructions that show how to use and understand the record, though scientists still debate whether other civilizations will be able to decipher them. For info on Voyager’s golden record, click here. For an explanation of the record cover diagram, click here. For an interactive module that contains greetings, sounds, and pictures included on the record (requires Flash plug-in), click here.
g Aftermath - How might interested parties envisage the design of a human team to prepare for an encounter with aliens — and improve the operational guidelines for that eventuality? See article.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cameras on Mars and Lunar and Planetary Institute teaching resources

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 -The Visual Monitoring Camera is mounted on Mars Express, ESA's deep-space probe now orbiting the Red Planet. It originally provided simple, low-tech images of Beagle lander separation, and is now back in action as the “Mars Webcam.” See article.
g Message -Just how does SETI work? Here’s a good primer for those looking to get a basic overview.
g Learning -This subject is the study of the life beyond Earth, and the conditions under which life may exist. Here are Lunar and Planetary Institute resources from its field trips, workshops, programs, and products. They include activities, images, powerpoints, recommended books and videos and Web sites, and more.
g Aftermath - Comparing the task presented to a stellar communicator to the reasoning why past civilizations have prepared for posterity, one considers whether SETI lays the groundwork for future archaeology. Why did our terrestrial ancestors prepare relics like the Rosetta Stone? See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Arecibo message and asteroids that pass our planet

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 -The majority of asteroids that pass near the Earth have a different composition than most of the meteorites that actually hit our planet. Astronomers now think they may have figured out why this is the case. See article.
g Message -In 1974, astronomers sent the "Arecibo message," a binary-coded signal that decodes to a graphic illustrating some basic characteristics of Earth. The message was intended more to demonstrate the power of the telescope than to contact distant civilizations. Cornell's 25th anniversary announcement includes a decoded explanation and more information about what the scientists were thinking. See article.
g Cosmicus -QinetiQ's Zephyr Unmanned Aerial Vehicle obliterated the previous world record for continuous solar flight, though some technical disputes may hold off its place in the records books for a short time. See article.
g Aftermath - Would dutiful American citizens trust the government to handle first contact with extraterrestrials and rush to get information to the public? See article. Note: This article is from 1999.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Temporal aspect of the Drake Equation and psychological challenges of long duration missions

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 -Atmospheric chemists, physicists, oceanographers, and marine biologists from Asia, North America, and Europe are studying the place where the Arctic Ocean’s multiyear sea ice meets one-year, land-fast ice in the Canadian Arctic archipelago. See article.
g Life - Human activities are having disastrous effects on the health of the world's oceans according to a new prognosis. Factors such as overfishing and climate change must be addressed in order to ensure the future health of one of our planet's most important biological resources. See article.
g Message -Here’s an interesting paper, “The Temporal Aspect of the Drake Equation and SETI, “ which critically investigate some evolutionary aspects of the famous Drake equation. See article. Note: This paper is a few years old.
g Cosmicus -In addition to the physical dangers of exploring the moon and Mars, future human explorers will also need to overcome many psychological challenges in order for long duration missions to be successful. See article.
g Aftermath - We live in a new age of discovery, the first days of a new renaissance. It is the dawn of the age of planets. See article. Note: This article is from 2005.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Perchlorate on Mars and revolutionizing science education

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 -Scientists responsible for NASA's Phoenix mission were surprised to find the chemical compound perchlorate in the soil at the spacecraft's landing site. On Earth, perchlorate is commonly associated with liquid water. On Mars, however, the implication is not so clear. See article.
g Life - In Astrobiology Magazine’s latest podcast, “Naked Astrobiology”: Is All Life Left-Handed?”, host Simon Mitton interviews Axel Brandenburg, an astrobiologist at the NORDITA research facility at Stockholm in Sweden, considers why terrestrial life is based on molecules that have a left-handed symmetry, when their mirror images should work just as well. He considers the intriguing question: could life be right handed, at the molecular level, elsewhere in the solar system? See podcast.
g Message -What are the advantages of looking for ET using near-infrared laser communications? There’s a good explanation at a University of Kentucky Web site.
g Cosmicus -Many scientifically interesting sites on Mars lie on the steep faces of cliffs and craters, out of reach of present-day technology. A group of NASA engineers has developed a three-rover system, modeled on tether-aided human climbing, that may make these locations accessible. See article.
g Learning -Research scientists aren’t the only ones getting excited about astrobiology. This new discipline has tremendous potential for revolutionizing science education. It is rich with exciting content to engage those who generally don’t consider themselves scientifically-oriented, and also for opening the ears and minds of adults who may want a new reason to visit their local science center. See article.
g Imagining -The existence of a race of sentient alien robots might be not just possible, but inevitable. In fact, we might be living in a "postbiological universe" right now, in which intelligent extraterrestrials somewhere have exchanged organic brains for artificial ones. See article.
g Aftermath - As we look toward exploring other worlds, and perhaps even bringing samples back to Earth for testing, astrobiologists have to wonder: could there be alien pathogens in those samples that will wreak havoc on our world? See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Friday, August 22, 2008

Researching Mars in polar bear country and ‘How to Make a Cosmic Omelet’

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 this interview, Hans Amundsen is a Norwegian geologist and the expedition leader of the Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition, explains how we’re researching Mars in polar bear country. See article.
g Life -Our approach to the search for life in the universe is highly influenced by our knowledge of life at home on Earth. “Life: How to Make a Cosmic Omelet, The DNA Files” looks at the ways in which genetic tools have helped define life as we know it, from bacteria found in a boiling hot spring in Yellowstone National Park to microbes found frozen (and alive!) in the Arctic. See article.
g Message -SETI isn’t just an American endeavor. The Southern SERENDIP project is using the Parkes radio telescope in Australia to search for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations. See this overview.
g Learning -Students from 10 schools are spending time with top Australian scientists to discuss the possibility of extraterrestrial life. See article.
g Aftermath - Here’s an intriguing essay that discusses what might happen if we do too little to contact extraterrestrials; as the authors argue, “…skepticism regarding SETI is at best unfounded and at worst can seriously damage the long-term prospects of humanity. If ETIs exist, no matter whether friendly or adversarial (or even beyond such simple distinctions), they are relevant for our future. To neglect this is contraryy to the basic tenets of transhumanism. To appreciate this, it is only sufficient to imagine the consequences of SETI success for any aspect of transhumanist interests, and then to affirm that such a success can only be achieved without trying if they come to us, which would obviously mean that we are hopelessly lagging in the race for galactic colonization.” See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Siljan ring and what an intelligent signal from another planet change about human destiny

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 -Thomas Hode, cofounder of the Swedish Astrobiology Network, speaks about his research in the largest impact structure in Western Europe, the Siljan ring. See article.
g Life - In this interview, Anthony Poole, a molecular biologist at Stockholm University in Sweden discusses early life. See article.
g Message -The sheer number of stars makes it virtually inevitable that there are other planets around other stars that are just like Earth - planets with atmospheres, oceans of liquid water and ambient conditions conducive to life. See article.
g Cosmicus -Life-searching instruments are being tested in Rio Tinto, ready to be used as part of an upcoming mission to Mars. See article.
g Learning -Questions such as "are we alone?" and "what does the future hold for life on Earth?" have been pondered for millennia. But only in recent decades have advances in science and technology allowed us to confront the universe with some hope of answers. This explains the emergence of scientific journals devoted to life in the solar system and beyond. One of the first is Astrobiology, a US-based journal launched in 2001. See article.
g Aftermath - What would an intelligent signal from another planet change about human destiny? This large question is the topic of the book “The SETI Factor,” by Frank White, who also analyzes how to announce such an historic finding and whether it would unite or divide nations. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Martian analog in Iceland and Nordic contributions to astrobiology

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 LHS 1723?
g Abodes -If you want to learn about the role of water on Mars and Europa, Iceland is a good place to start. See article.
g Life - We all try to avoid viruses due to the havoc they can wage on our health. Some viruses do more than create temporary discomfort. See article.
g Message -Here are some moving excerpts from the written testimony submitted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Department of Astrophysics and Hayden Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History, to the "Life in the Universe" hearings held by the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics in 2001. See article.
g Cosmicus -A new free-swimming robot has completed a 3.1-mile-deep trek beneath the ocean. The robot opens new possibilities for exploring the deep sea and discovering unique habitats for life. See article.
g Learning -The contribution to astronomy from scientists of the Nordic countries is out of proportion to their populations. Some of the most basic tools of science would be lacking if it were not for the contributions from Scandinavian astronomers in fields of research that now underpin the sciences of geophysics, astrophysics and astrobiology. See article.
g Aftermath - The search for extraterrestrial life grips the human imagination because it tells us about ourselves. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The hypothetical planet Daisyworld and estimating the frequency for communicating with an extrasolar civilization

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 -Scientists recently gathered to debate the recent IAU decision to demote Pluto from 'planet' status. Pluto may be small, but objects like Pluto still undergo important geophysical processes that can teach us about planetary formation. See article.
g Life - On the hypothetical planet Daisyworld, flowers control the climate. Black daisies absorb sunlight and warm the planet. See article.
g Message -Estimating the frequency for communicating with an extrasolar civilization is a multi-dimensional challenge. The answer, according to two scientists at the Hungarian Astronomical Association, is less like an equation and more like a matrix. See article. This article is from 2003.
g Cosmicus -The water locked underneath icecaps or glaciers can tell us about our planet's past and its possibly warmer future. Similar environments on distant worlds could tell us whether life can originate in these harsh conditions. To study the icy depths, a Swedish team of researchers is designing a tiny submersible that can slip down a narrow borehole. See article.
g Learning -Malcolm Walter has moved his collection of rocks over from Macquarie University to the University of NSW, where he has joined Brett Neilan and his colleagues in an expanded multidisciplinary team as part of the new Australian Centre for Astrobiology. See article.
g Aftermath - While most depictions of extraterrestrials are confined to science fiction, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that some form of alien life exists somewhere in the universe, according to a new survey. See article. Note: This article is from 2005.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Monday, August 18, 2008

Organisms colonizing glass and Nordic contributions to astrobiology

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 -U.S. scientists say they are preparing for the day when they can study materials returned to Earth from Mars or other planetary bodies. See article.
g Life - Organisms colonize glass in order to extract energy, “eating” metals such as iron or manganese contained within. See article.
g Message -In Part Three in the series on stellar and terrestrial evolution, Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of the PBS/NOVA Series "Origins," discusses the limits of radio searches for extraterrestrial life. See article.
g Cosmicus -NASA has concluded that corrective action is appropriate in the Government Accountability Office bid protest of Exploration Systems & Technology, Inc. NASA determined that a compliance issue requires the termination of the contract for the Constellation Space Suit System with Oceaneering International, Inc. of Houston for the convenience of the government. See article.
g Learning -Brimming with new interviews, stories and essays, the Summer 2008 issue of AMEE focuses on the Nordic community's contributions to astrobiology. See article.
g Imagining -Notes on Life Underground: here are some astrobiological thoughts on the novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth” through the eyes of Nordic science fiction writer, Ludvig Holberg. See article.
g Aftermath - The next big discovery in science will be the proof that alien life exists — and it could come any day now. See article. Note: This article is from 2006.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Clay on Mars and phoning home intergalactically

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 -Layers of clay have been discovered in the Martian highlands using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The data indicates that liquid water was once widespread on early Mars. See article.
g Life - Sasquatch or no sasquatch, a press conference Friday about a Bigfoot discovery felt like a zoo. See article.
g Message -Phoning home intergalactically may have one natural prerequisite if a civilization is hoping to connect: timing their precursor signal or 'ring' so that we might know that they're broadcasting. Dr. Robin Corbet, of the Universities' Space Research Association, discusses his research findings on Synchronized SETI here. Note: This article is from 2002.
g Cosmicus -Take a group of scientists and a video game designer and what do you get? Spore, a game that can help teach players some evolutionary biology. See article.
g Learning -Founded in 2001 and published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Astrobiology is a peer-reviewed journal "that explores the secrets of life's origin, evolution, distribution, and destiny in the universe." The journal's Founding and current Editor-in-Chief is Dr. S.L. Cady. In this interview, Dr. Cady talks with ScienceWatch.com about Astrobiology's publication history and citation achievements.
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

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bacterial diversity drivers and which star meets the current best guesses for habitability

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 -For almost 30 years, scientists have known that complex carbon compounds called tholins exist on comets and in the atmospheres of the outer planets. Theoretically, tholins might interact with water in a process called hydrolysis to produce complex molecules similar to those found on the early Earth. See article.
g Life - New studies show that temperature, not productivity, drives bacterial diversity. The finding is changing our understanding about the conditions that affect how organisms inhabit specific environments. See article.
g Message -What star meets the current best guesses for habitability? This fascinating question was answered as part of a research survey in preparation for NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder mission. The answer, according to the largest such classification so far attempted, is the 37th brightest star in the constellation, Gemini, called 37 Gem. This star, as it turns out, is the most like our own sun. See article. Note: This article came out in October 2003.
g Cosmicus -The Phoenix Mars Lander — which confirmed the existence of ice water on Mars back in June — has two Canadian-made instruments on board for its three-month (but likely to run for years) mission. See article.
g Learning -A new video game called "Spore," the result of a four year collaboration between video game designer Will Wright and a group of scientists, is teaching players evolutionary biology. See article.
g Aftermath - Humans live and die by approximations. We are seldom as perfect or as accurate as we would like to be. And as we contemplate what we might say to an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, maybe that's a point we should emphasize. See article.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Friday, August 15, 2008

Titan as analog for early Earth and how Spore evolved

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 Groombridge 1618?
g Abodes -Reactions between organic compounds in Titan’s atmosphere and water on the surface may create complex molecules similar to those on the early Earth. See article.
g Message -What if we examined how to communicate with extraterrestrials from a telecommunication engineer’s point of view? That’s the approach of Brian McConnell’s book, “Beyond Contact: A Guide to SETI and Communicating with Alien Civilizations.” Though the book has been out a few years now, it’s still worth a read if you haven’t already delved into it. Read more about the book and an interview with McConnell.
g Learning -How did the concept for the evolution-sim game Spore come about? See article.
g Aftermath - Here’s an intriguing article: How SETI is using the social sciences to decipher our thoughts on alien life. See article. Note: This article is from 2002.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Potential for life on Europa and returning planetary samples from Mars

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 -New research is providing clues about the potential for life on Europa. By studying Europa's surface, scientists hope to determine the best places to search for life and whether or not the moon is geologically active. See article.
g Message -Among the most important SETI work is being done at Harvard University. Here’s the Harvard SETI home page, which discusses the Radio Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, The Arecibo Search for Early Hydrogen and Optical SETI.
g Cosmicus -A critical component of NASA's Mars exploration program involves bringing planetary samples back to Earth for in-depth analysis. See article.
g Learning -Take a group of scientists and a video game designer and what do you get? Spore, a game that can help teach players some evolutionary biology. See article.
g Aftermath - If some day we detect a radio signal from a distant civilization, we’ll have to make some adjustments in the way we view ourselves. After millennia of knowing of no other intelligence in the universe than humankind, we could face a considerable challenge to our terrestrial egotism. In the process, will we simply gain a little healthy humility about our place in the universe? Or would it be downright humiliating to compare our own meager accomplishments with those of more advanced extraterrestrials? See article. Note: This article is from 2000.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Understanding water’s role in life and how SETI came to be

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 -Scientists have discovered that water, a molecule essential for life as we know it, is not as well understood as we thought. The study adds to our understanding of water's role in the origin and survival of life on Earth. See article.
g Message -How did the SETI program come to be? See a timeline of the program’s history.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.” – Arthur C. Clarke
g Aftermath - How would we go about deciphering a message sent by extraterrestrials? Two anthropologists suggest that we might gain clues to decoding more complex extraterrestrial messages by examining past attempts to decode languages right here on Earth. See article. Note: This article from 2001.

Get your SF book manuscript edited

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mars between ice ages and how life began

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 -"Mars is not a dead planet -it undergoes climate changes that are even more pronounced than on Earth,” according to James Head, a planetary geologist at Brown University. The prevailing thinking is that Mars is a planet whose active climate has been confined to the distant past. See article.
g Life - How life began - this problem really permeates much of humankind, societies and cultures past and present. Some have evoked a supreme being to explain the origin of life; others look to the scientific method to provide answers. Regardless of the position, there have been at least two extremely exciting discoveries or reports that really change the nature of the game. See article.
g Message -Just exactly how does SETI work? Here’s a primer.
g Aftermath - Understanding the public’s current thoughts on what will happen once humanity discovers extraterrestrial intelligence is a vital part of any objective discussion in which we attempt to predict and prepare for the aftermath. Here’s one person’s view. Note the mix of popular mythology (UFOs) and an almost spiritual notion that the aliens will help us or make our lives better in some ways, as if they were angels descended from the sky. A thought: Is this an indication that if the aliens are technologically superior, we’ll readily accept their ways and let it supplant our own culture?

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Monday, August 11, 2008

Looking for alien life atop Grizzly Peak and interstellar expedition to a Super-Earth

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 -Venus, with its boiling-hot surface, doesn't seem a likely place to find ET. But a new paper argues not only that Venusian clouds could harbor microbial life, but also that the life there could potentially hitch a ride aboard the solar wind to Earth. The possibility for microbial life on Venusian clouds has been suggested before, though it's still not widely thought to be likely. However, the assertion that this life could potentially float from Venus to Earth is novel, and contentious. See article.
g Message -The universe is a noisy place, filled with the hiss and crackle of stars being born and dying. There is little escape from this cosmic din, except in one small region of the radio dial — the microwave band. Here, only the faint whimper of the Big Bang breaks the silence, making it a "really good place to communicate," according to Dan Werthimer of Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, perched close to the stars atop Grizzly Peak. Note: This article is from 2000. See article.
g Cosmicus -Super-Earths, terrestrial planets many times the mass of Earth, have been discovered orbiting distant stars. In this essay, Ray Villard details a possible future expedition to visit one of these alien worlds in order to study the life that could exist there. See article.
g Aftermath - Let’s presume we have detected an extraterrestrial intelligence. We cannot tell for sure if the message was intended for us, or what it means. What should we do?

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Martian climate capable of supporting life and Antarctica fossils

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 -A new study in the deserts of Earth is helping scientists understand how dust devils on Mars affect the Martian atmosphere and climate. The data could be useful in developing new missions, and will help astrobiologists understand if the Martian climate was once capable of supporting life. See article.
g Life - Scientists have discovered traces of fossilized plants and insects in an ice-free region of Antarctica. The finding is evidence of what Antarctica was like before an abrupt cooling of the Earth roughly 13.9 million years ago. See article.
g Message -While some scientists cautiously plan for ways to reply to extraterrestrial transmissions, others haven't waited for a signal to start talking. Sending messages from Earth into space to announce the existence of the human race is somewhat rare and controversial. Digital transmissions have been beamed into space from radio telescopes, and four spacecraft currently leaving the solar system bear messages for anyone who finds them. See article.
g Aftermath - Speaking of cosmic self-esteem: Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees describes how for the first time humans as a species may start to change in observable ways within single lifetimes and under some lose control of our own influence. If this future plays out, the future itself becomes more difficult to forecast. See article.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Looking for alien oceans and nonreproducing alien probes

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 -Scientists propose to find water on alien planets by looking for the glint of starlight from distant oceans. See article.
g Life - Fans of extraterrestrial life may have been disappointed when internet-fed rumors of Martian life ended in a NASA press conference on soil composition. But they can take solace in a newly popular theory that suggests the rest of space may teem with microbes. See article.
g Message - Any nonreproducing alien probes discovered in the Solar System during the normal course of future SETI research would most likely have been sent by extraterrestrial civilizations located within a 1000 light-year radius of the Sun, whereas any self-reproducing devices similarly detected probably originated far outside this exploration sphere. See article.
g Cosmicus -Solar energetic particles (SEPs), especially those of high energies, can negatively affect the near-Earth space weather environment and spacecraft. The SEPs can originate from either energization at a solar flare site or by interplanetary shockwaves associated with coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The charged energetic particles consist of protons, electrons, and heavy ions—primarily moving along the solar and interplanetary magnetic fields—can reach Earth in a matter of a few hours and dose the geospace environment with hazardous radiation. See article.
g Learning -Astrobiology is young enough to still have vocal critics; in particular, those who think that "astrobiology" is nothing more than a hope that life will someday be discovered beyond Earth. See article.
g Aftermath - Here’s an intriguing article that is frequently referenced in astrobiology papers: "The Consequences of a Discovery: Different Scenarios", by astronomer Ivan Almar. Note: This article is from 1995.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Friday, August 08, 2008

Likelihood of habitable solar systems and Titan with liquid

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 -For the first time, scientists have used large-scale computer simulations to model the formation of planetary systems from beginning to end. The study will help scientists understand the likelihood of habitable systems forming elsewhere in the universe. See article.
g Abodes -NASA scientists have concluded that at least one of the large lakes observed on Saturn's moon Titan contains liquid hydrocarbons, and have positively identified the presence of ethane. This makes Titan the only body in our solar system beyond Earth known to have liquid on its surface. See article.
g Life - Despite today’s findings of toxic perchlorate in Martian soil, NASA is not ready to write off life on Mars; leading space scientists point to earthbound extremeophiles that process the substance. See article.
g Message - How do we search for life in the universe? From sending probes to the planets to discovering new worlds, find out how we are looking for alien life. See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: “It’s often said that 500 years ago the oceans were the great unknown and that their exploration was a difficult, dangerous and expensive business. But the awards were huge. Space is the ocean of our generation.” – Piers Sellars, shuttle astronaut
g Aftermath - Here’s one common man’s musings on the consequences for society if extraterrestrial intelligence is discovered: "Inevitably society would change should extraterrestrial intelligence be discovered. The question is to what extent. We might react in the same way we did with the new millennium when it was imminent, but it proved to be much ado about almost nothing. The same may be true for the discovery of one or more extraterrestrial civilizations. On the other hand, the extreme opposite is a scenario where all of our worst fears are fulfilled.” Note: This article is from 2001.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dark spiders on surface of Mars and postbiological 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 system GJ 412 AB?
g Abodes - “Dark spiders" on the surface of Mars might be explained by seasonal temperature changes that melt surface ice and salt, causing erosion, according to a provocative new theory. See article. Note: This article is from 2006.
g Intelligence - Postbiological life might operate (communicate, organize, travel, colonize) on a larger scale than a single galaxy—possibly on the scale of the supercluster. The most advanced postbiological civilizations in our Local Supercluster may have developed in the Virgo Cluster, a rich cluster where intergalactic communication and travel would be easiest. If these advanced civilizations wanted to contact new civilizations elsewhere in the Supercluster they might collectively broadcast from one central location, for the sake of efficiency and to make it easy to find. A powerful, centrally located beacon would tend to replace all others in the Supercluster. This could explain the failure of SETI. The most likely location for this beacon is the giant elliptical galaxy M87. See article.
g Message - If we are not alone in the universe, why have we never picked up signals from an extraterrestrial civilization? Known as the Fermi paradox after physicist Enrico Fermi, who first posed the question, this long-standing puzzle remains one of the strongest arguments against the existence of intelligent aliens. But two physicists say they have come up with a solution. They suggest a way in which aliens could send messages to each other across space that not only disguises their locations but also makes it impossible for a casual observer to even distinguish the messages from background noise. See article. Note: This article is from May 2003.
g Cosmicus -Since 2003 the Arctic Mars Analogue Svalbard Expedition has been traveling to field sites on Svalbard to test the protocols, procedures and equipment needed to detect traces of organic chemistry and perhaps life on Mars. See article.
g Aftermath - Here’s an intriguing read: the final report of “The Workshop on the Societal Implications of Astrobiology”. Note: The workshop was held in 1999.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Perchlorate in Martian soil and astrobioethics

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 -Recent news reports have speculated that the Phoenix lander has discovered perchlorate on Mars. While Phoenix scientists admit that perchlorate salts may be present, they disagree with the assumption that the presence of such an oxidant makes the soil inhospitable for life. See article.
g Life - Deep in the hinterlands of the Republic of the Congo lies a secret ape paradise that is home to 125,000 western lowland gorillas, researchers announced this week. See article.
g Message -The spectral approach is a universal tool of both astronomical observations and SETI. Furthermore, it has a clear physical meaning – a spectrometer finds the energy distribution of photons, in human sensing it is color and pitch. Under the hypothesis on identity of physical laws in our part of universe, it may be proposed that spectrometry also are using by those aliens, who know radio and lead theirs own SETI, too. See article.
g Aftermath - Have you ever wanted to put a new word in the dictionary? Now's your chance: say hello to astrobioethics, a branch of ethics involving the implications of life science in space. See article.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Life on Mars and the AstroBiology Explorer

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 of the G-type star Eta Boo?
g Abodes -Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, acclaimed astrobiologist from Cardiff University,Wales said the discovery of water on planet Mars combined with other discoveries point to the existence of life on the planet. See article.
g Life - Scientists have discovered how insects can use a bubble of air as an 'external lung' to breathe underwater. The study highlights a unique way in which organisms on Earth have evolved in response to their environment. See article.
g Message -A pioneer of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has warned that for any intelligent aliens trying to search for us, "the Earth is going to disappear" very soon. Frank Drake's point, made at a SETI workshop at Harvard University, is that television services are increasingly being delivered by technologies that do not leak radio frequencies into space. But he added that in some ways the observation is good news for SETI, as it means that the failure of Earth-based observers to detect aliens so far may be less worrisome than it would otherwise seem. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Cosmicus -What is the AstroBiology Explorer (ABE)? See article.
g Aftermath - How will major world religions be affected by the reception ofradio transmissions from an extraterrestrial intelligence? Here’s an interesting project that posits some possible scenarios.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Monday, August 04, 2008

Water ice found on Mars and life on super-Earths

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 - Quote of the Day: “We are all made of star stuff.” – Carl Sagan
g Abodes -When Phoenix landed on the Martian surface, the spacecraft’s thruster exhaust blew away dirt and exposed a hard surface. Cracks now have appeared in this bright-toned area, which was nicknamed “Snow Queen” due to the assumption it is made of water ice. See article.
g Life - In the past few years, astronomers have discovered super-Earths, terrestrial planets many times the mass of Earth, orbiting distant stars. In this essay, Ray Villard discusses how we could study life forms that may exist on those alien worlds. See article.
g Message -How can SETI scientists be sure they’ve picked up intelligence and not just the cosmic gurgle of a completely natural object? How can they know they’re not merely harkening to the ticking beat of a pulsar, the whoosh of a quasar or perhaps the lasing bray of a molecular gas cloud? See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: The study of the cosmos “gives man an exalted heart, and an eye which reaches beyond the earth, and wings which lift one into the incommensurable.” – Jean Paul
g Aftermath - Freelance writer Mark Pendergrast examined the folly of the Anthropic Principle in a 2005 newspaper op-ed.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Habitable zone for 70 Ophiuchi AB and biofilm on T-Rex fossils

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 binary 70 Ophiuchi AB?
g Abodes - New research shows that 40 million years ago the Earth was experiencing warmer seas with little or no ice on the planet. The finding could help scientists understand the effects of climate change on Earth today. See article.
g Life - In 2005, researchers thought they had discovered the remains of dinosaur blood vessels and cells protected inside the bones of a T-Rex. A new study shows that the soft tissue may be biofilms formed by bacteria. See article.
g Message -SETI research isn’t limited to a single facility listening to radio signals. Another dimension of the program is The Mega-Channel Extraterrestrial Assay, which searched the Southern Hemisphere's skies briefly during the 1990s. See article.
g Cosmicus -A privately funded rocket was lost on its way to space Saturday night, bringing a third failure in a row to an Internet multimillionaire's effort to create a market for low-cost space-delivery. See article.
g Aftermath - I offer this Web site entry on “exopolitics” only as a basis for us to think about how people might react once we know an extraterrestrial civilization exists.. Certainly many will give ufology more credence and make fantastical conclusions based upon images in the popular media. Question: How do we counteract this now? Obviously we want people discussing the topic of “exopolitics,” even if it’s in a vacuum. But how do we move beyond silly paranormal notions?

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Wet Mars and ET political philosophy

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 LP 816-060?
g Abodes -Two new studies indicate that Mars once hosted vast lakes, flowing rivers and other wet environments. Even more remarkable, the data supports the theory that Mars once had the potential to support life. See article.
g Life - A prehistoric crater left by an asteroid collision in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula could yield clues about what Mars was like billions of years ago, a NASA scientist says. See article.
g Message -The hunt for ET is revving up to warp speed, thanks largely to an infusion of cash from Seattle's most famous science-fiction fan. On Friday, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen joined scientists from SETI — the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — to unveil the first major telescope devoted full time to answering the question: Is anyone out there? See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: “If we do not have a place in space, then we have nothing to live for and ultimately our civilization will be doomed.” – Richard Branson
g Aftermath - Would ET vote? What effect will ET’s political philosophy have on ours once contact is made? See article. It’s an older piece but well worth the read.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Friday, August 01, 2008

Spiral galaxy formation and ancient organisms preserved inside salt crystals

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 - A new study indicates that spiral galaxies, like the Milky Way, evolve in shape over time. The finding is providing important information about the history of our galaxy and the conditions in which our solar system may have formed. See article.
g Abodes -NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft has filmed the Moon transiting Earth from 31 million miles away. The event is now being used to develop techniques for studying alien worlds. See article.
g Life - Scientists have discovered fibers from ancient organisms preserved inside salt crystals in New Mexico. The surprising finding could help astrobiologists search for signs of life on other planets. See article.
g Message -In SETI program planning, higher priority should be given in the near-term to those probe and artifact searches which can be carried out quickly and inexpensively, in preference to larger more expensive beacon searches which should be mounted in the decades ahead. See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: “The finer part of mankind will, in all likelihood, never perish – they will migrate from sun to sun as they go out. And so there is no end to life, to intellect and the perfection of humanity. Its progress is everlasting.” - Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
g Learning - In the history of science and technology, there is an infrequent combination of empirical discoveries, theories and technology developments converge that make it possible to recognize a new discipline. See article.
g Aftermath - Aftermath Here’s an interesting book for some astrobiological reading: “After Contact: The Human Response to Extraterrestrial Life”by Albert A. Harrison. Read some reviews.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future