Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spotting transiting planets and alien ecospheres on Europa and Jupiter

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 - Recent quasar studies are showing us that entire galaxies may expel dust to distances of several hundred thousand light years. See article.
g Abodes - The car-sized asteroid that exploded above the Nubian Desert last October was small compared to the dinosaur-killing, civilization-ending objects that still orbit the sun. But that didn't stop it from having a huge impact among scientists. This was the first instance of an asteroid spotted in space before falling to Earth. See article. For related story, see Picking Up the Pieces.
g Life - Both a Spanish and a French astrophysicist have identified a band in the infrared range that serves to track the presence of organic material rich in oxygen and nitrogen in the interstellar dust grains. Should any telescope detect this band, the presence in space of aminoacids and other substances, which are the precursors to life, could be confirmed. See article.
g Intelligence - Quote of the Day: “If we blow ourselves up, there’s plenty more where we came from.” - Doris Lessing
g Message - what is the solipsist approach to extraterrestrial intelligence? See article.
g Cosmicus - Spotting transiting planets is what missions like CoRoT and Kepler are all about. The next step, getting a read on what’s in the atmosphere of any transiting, terrestrial world, is going to be tricky. The biomarkers like ozone and methane, so crucial for determining whether there’s life on a distant planet, are beyond the range of existing spacecraft. But the next generation James Webb Space Telescope is also in the works, scheduled for launch in 2013. See article.
g Learning - The Planetary Society has unveiled its new Catalog of Exoplanets, a fine resource with the basics on detection methods and a glossary that complements a catalog filled with helpful orbital animations. See article.
g Imagining - What might alien ecospheres on Europa and Jupiter look like? See article.

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