Saturday, January 22, 2011

SetiQuest and rockets without fuel

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - For 10 days in December, a mob of icy comets pelted the sun in an extraordinary cosmic storm. Scientists who monitored the solar tempest now think the flurry of sundiving comets might herald a much bigger comet to come – one that could potentially be visible to the naked eye. See article.
g Abodes - Book alert: In “The Crowded Universe,” Alan Boss, a theoretical astrophysicist who has studied models of planet formation, provides a broad, general review of the recent history of exoplanet discovery. Starting from the mid-1990s and going through late 2008, Boss reviews the discoveries of the first exoplanets around Sun-like stars and major discovery milestones that have occurred since then, including finding multiple-planet systems, directly imaging exoplanets, and discoveries of atmospheres and their compositions of some of these distant worlds. He expands his scope beyond just discoveries, though, to cover topics like the theory of planet formation, development of spacecraft missions, and some of the related policy issues, including changes in NASA leadership and the struggles to secure funding for and manage some key exoplanet missions like Kepler, which was in danger of cancellation as recently as 2007. See review by Jeff Foust.
g Life - A team of paleontologists and geologists from Argentina and the United States on Jan. 13 announced the discovery of a lanky dinosaur that roamed South America in search of prey as the age of dinosaurs began, approximately 230 million years ago. See article.
g Intelligence - Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. In a study that will appear in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers report the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain's grey matter. See article.
g Message - setiQuest is an effort to tap into the global brain trust, harness the power of citizen scientists, and educate the next generation of Earthlings to improve current searches for extraterrestrial intelligence and better understand our place in the cosmos. We are creating a community - or if you prefer, a tribe - to actively involve the world in the ultimate search for cosmic company.
g Cosmicus - An advanced rocket propulsion concept calls for heating a rocket’s propellant by focusing energy on it from ground-based lasers or microwave sources. The technology could cut the cost of putting payloads into orbit by a factor of five or more. See article.
g Aftermath - Science fiction author David Brin offers a copy of his 1983 article “Xenology: The Science of Asking Who’s Out There”. Though nearly three decades old, the information is still relevant and offers a good overview of fundamental astrobiological questions. See paper.

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