Monday, January 19, 2009

How tidal heating determines planet habitability and ‘Fifty Solutions to Fermi's Paradox’

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 star must live in a relatively tranquil cosmic neighborhood to foster planet formation, say astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. A team of scientists came to this conclusion after watching intense ultraviolet light and powerful winds from O-type stars rip away the potential planet-forming disks around stars like our sun. See article.
g Abodes - As it orbits a star, a planet can be squeezed and flexed by intense gravitational forces. In this podcast, Brian Jackson explains how this "tidal heating" can help determine whether a planet will have life. See article.
g Life - One of life's greatest mysteries is how it began. Scientists have pinned it down to roughly this: Some chemical reactions occurred about 4 billion years ago — perhaps in a primordial tidal soup or maybe with help of volcanoes or possibly at the bottom of the sea or between the mica sheets — to create biology. See article. See article.
g Intelligence - Making money comes naturally to some people - specifically to men exposed to high levels of testosterone before they were born. That, at least, is the conclusion of a study published this month by John Coates of the University of Cambridge and his colleagues. See article.
g Message - Book alert: In response to Enrico Fermi's famous 1950 question concerning the existence of advanced civilizations elsewhere, physicist Stephen Webb in “If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens... Where Is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to Fermi's Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life” critically examines 50 resolutions to explain the total absence of empirical evidence for probes, starships, and communications from extraterrestrials. He focuses on our Milky Way Galaxy, which to date has yielded no objects or signals that indicate the existence of alien beings with intelligence and technology. His comprehensive analysis covers topics ranging from the Drake equation and Dyson spheres to the panspermia hypothesis and anthropic arguments. Of special interest are the discussions on the DNA molecule, the origin of life on Earth, and the threats to organic evolution on this planet (including mass extinctions). Webb himself concludes that the "great silence" in nature probably results from humankind's being the only civilization now in this galaxy, if not in the entire universe. This richly informative and very engaging book is recommended for most academic and public library science collections. See reviews.
g Cosmicus - The Mars Science Laboratory rover may be retargeted to land near a methane vent on Mars to specifically seek direct evidence of current Martian life. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a useful Web site for educators about microbial life and its role in astrobiology, created by Sarah Bordenstein of the Marine Biological Laboratory: “Microbial Life and Astrobiology”.
g Imagining - Could the Oankali of Octavia E. Butler’s “Xenogenesis” trilogy really use human genes to continue their species? For a biologist’s analysis, click here. The answers may surprise you.
g Aftermath - How is the search for life elsewhere reflected culturally in symbols that we recognize daily? One signpost invented to characterize the 'state of the Internet' is the occasional change in the logo of the world's most popular search engine. How that doodle has come to recognize astrobiology seems to violate conventional wisdom on what is meant by tinkering with one's cherished brand recognition. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

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