Saturday, August 29, 2009

How climate change affects biospheres and Hollywood’s vision of ETI

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Abodes - By modeling ice sheets in Antarctica, scientists have changed the way we think about Earth's transition 34 million years ago from warm “greenhouse” to the current, cool “icehouse.” The new study has important implications for how we understand climate change and its effects on the biosphere. See article.
g Message - A pair of U.S. astrobiologists have come up with a cunningly simply way of attracting the attention of alien lifeforms - just cover half the Moon's surface with mirrors to throw back some extra sunlight in ET's direction. See article. Note: This article is from 2008.
g Imagining - Hollywood never seems to have a shortage of films that harbor the possibility of extraterrestrial life in the Universe. You've got elite blockbusters like E.T., Independence Day, Star Wars, Superman, and more recently – Transformers. And still, we have yet to find stories outside those just borne out of the human mind that show other life forms outside ours do exist. See article.
g Aftermath - Galileo’s discoveries caused humans to reconsider their place in the universe and forced the Catholic Church to confront what it held sacred in its understanding of God’s creation. Should we expect the same to occur when we make first contact with ETI? See article.

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Tony said...

I have read a good deal about the Drake Equation, and think it is an interesting concept. Unfortunatly I've come across several solutions for it, ranging from 10,000 to 2. Most of the values have to be guessed. I saw an interveiw with Frank Drake and he said he was surprised that people were using his equations so seriously. When he wrote it for SETI it was just a means of putting their ducks in a row. So, I'm curious how seriously you think the Drake Equation should be taken.

Rob said...

A good question. As a mathematical equation, the Drake Equation is worthless because, as you've aptly pointed out, almost all of the variables are guesses. Having said that, the Drake Equation's real value is in guiding current astrobiological research and discussions. If we want to meet ETI, then we probably need to determine which stars would support life (R*, Ns, Fp in the equation or "stars" in my blog), which planets would support life (Ne or "abodes"), what is life and how it evolves(Fl or "life"), what is intelligent life (Fi or "intelligence"), how we might use technology to communicate with such intelligent life (Fc or "message"), and how a civilization might survive the technology that accompany its ability to communicate (L or "cosmicus" and "learning"). NASA, ESA and mainstream scientists are heavily focused (and rightly so, I believe)on addressing the issues of "stars"/"abodes"/"life"/ and at least for non-government agency scientists, "intelligence"; SETI is focused on addressing the issues of "message"; scientists and many in the general public (engineers, educators, science nuts) are concerned with "cosmicus" and "learning"; the rest of us interested in astrobiology are touching on the matters of "imagining" and "aftermath". As our understanding of the universe increases and as we come to have better answers for these variables, the Drake Equation no doubt will have to be revised to reflect that new reality. For now, though, the Drake Equation serves as an excellent, albeit loose, guide for serious astrobiology.