Astrobiology Ten Years Later: Can It Justify Its Funding?
April 17, 2006
Astrobiology just turned ten years old, but is experiencing growing pains, partly due to a starvation diet. This “science without a subject” (as George Gaylord Simpson quipped about its predecessor, exobiology) is struggling to justify itself at the Congressional feeding trough. Proponents tout it as the most important subject in the universe. Why, then, is […]
The Astrobiology Sky Is Falling
March 13, 2006
Rocco Mancinelli (Principal Investigator, SETI Institute) made an impassioned plea on Space.com for continued funding of astrobiology projects, calling threatened funding cuts a “national disaster” if not reversed. And what is astrobiology? He defined it as “the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.” His reasons for keeping astrobiology […]
Deities for Atheists, or Atheism for Dummies?
March 9, 2006
Michael Shermer wrote a book review in Science entitled “Deities for Atheists.”1 The article reviewed George Basalla’s recent book, Civilized Life in the Universe: Scientists on Intelligent Extraterrestrials (Oxford, 2005). Basalla (historian of science and technology, U of Delaware) contends that SETI is the continuation of an ancient religious quest. If so, who are the […]
Alien Engineering: Is It Intelligent Design?
February 16, 2006
The SETI Institute finished airing a 2-part series on the History Channel called Alien Engineering (it will be rebroadcast on Feb. 18). The series, featuring SETI Institute scientists Seth Shostak and Frank Drake, asks the following questions: Prepare for an exercise in imagination. Suppose that an alien spacecraft crashed in the desert and we humans […]
SETI Tries to Stretch the Habitable Zone
February 9, 2006
Can life exist outside the circumstellar habitable zone, that ring of life around a star where the temperature is comfy? “For more than 150 years,” Ker Than wrote for LiveScience, “…this zone has been defined as a narrow disk around a star where temperatures are moderate enough that water on the surface of a planet […]
A Whale of a SETI Tale
January 31, 2006
Disney’s Fantasia 2000 had an episode that pictured whales gliding through the air as if in outer space. Lawrence Doyle of the SETI Institute connected whales with space in another way. His article discussed whale language as a sign of intelligence. Appealing to information theory and entropy, Doyle discussed how scientists deduce the syntax and […]
SETI vs. Intelligent Design
December 3, 2005
Intelligent Design proponents have often pointed to the similarity between what they are doing and what SETI is doing. For example, SETI is attempting to detect evidence of intelligence in coded signals from space, and design biologists are detecting evidence of intelligence in the DNA code. Seth Shostak, Director of the SETI Institute, decided to […]
SETI: Search for Educational Targets Inc.
November 18, 2005
SETI may be the laughingstock of Congress, refused funding since William Proxmire gave it his Golden Fleece Award in the 1980s, but privately it is moving apace. The Science Channel gave it prominence in its weekly report Friday, visiting with pioneering signaler and listener Frank Drake. It surveyed everything from the first humble attempts to […]
Extraterrestrials Likely to Be Unicellular
October 25, 2005
An AP story printed at HeraldNet jokes that extraterrestrial life probably won’t look like “the negligee-clad Number 6 from [Battlestar] Galactica, the television series that features a genocidal war between humans and their robot creations.” Instead, according to the authors of a new book about extraterrestrial life, you would need a microscope to see it. […]
Is Archaeology Like SETI, or is SETI Like Religion?
September 24, 2005
Archaeologists have their Rosetta Stone, but so far, SETI investigators have no artifacts. Still, Douglas Vakoch wrote for Space.com, archaeologists and anthropologists can teach SETI researchers how to prepare for encountering “exotic cultures with strange languages.” Vakoch recounted the interest in this angle at an anthropology conference last year: One of the best-attended […]
Can Atheism Breathe in an Anthropic Universe?
August 16, 2005
Astronomers Martin Rees and Mario Livio considered “Anthropic Reasoning” in a Science perspectives article.1 The question bears not only on SETI, and whether intelligent life exists elsewhere, but why it exists here. They state the issue: We can imagine universes where the constants of physics and cosmology have different values. Many such “counterfactual” universes would […]
SETI Researchers Affirm Planetary Privilege Criteria
June 24, 2005
In the weekly SETI Thursday column on Space.com, Douglas Vakoch corroborated two claims made about the habitability of planets in the film The Privileged Planet (shown at the Smithsonian last night – see 06/09/2005 story): namely, (1) smaller stars have smaller habitable zones or “Goldilocks” zones where life can exist, and (2) planets within the […]
SETI Researcher Joins NG Imagination Fest
May 31, 2005
Space.Com writer Tariq Malik reviewed the National Geographic TV series Extraterrestrial that envisions flying whales, giraffe-like predators and flesh-eating tadpoles on a mythical world undergoing its own evolution. “Using computer models and armed with basic evolutionary theory, the scientists imagined not only what conditions might exist on their theoretical planets,” writes Malik, “but also how […]
Astrobiology: Much Ado About Nothing So Far
April 11, 2005
The mood at a NASA Astrobiology Institute conference is very upbeat, according to Leonard David at Space.com, reporting from the meetings in Boulder, Colorado. The participants have set their goals high: Consider it nothing short of the cosmic quest for all time: Understanding the origin, evolution, distribution, and fate of life on Earth and in […]
Home to E.T.: You Have Mail
March 17, 2005
According to MSNBC News, 138,179 people responded to an offer to beam a message into space. “Yet another outfit, TalktoAliens.com,” the report continues, “is offering to broadcast your 900-prefix telephone call into space for $3.99 a minute.” Let’s hope E.T. has his spam filter on. Hey, Nigeria! Hey, Star Registry! Look at all these suckers […]