Friday, December 31, 2004

Asteroid collision called off, fur vs. hair and Iapetus rising

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 – With natural catastrophe very much on the minds of everyone in the wake of the Asian quake disaster, one potential hammer blow from space can now be dismissed for the foreseeable future: astronomers have just refined the orbit of near-Earth asteroid 2004 MN4 and can state categorically that it will miss our planet on April 13, 2029. See article.
g Abodes – Using altitude-dependent differences in fossil leaves, geologists have developed a tool that they say can track land elevations over geologic epochs. The scientists plan to use the new technique to better chronicle the rise and fall of mountain ranges. See article.
g Life – Water is not an essential ingredient for life, scientists claim. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Intelligence – Mammals have fur over most of their bodies, but at some point during evolution, we humans lost that fur covering. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis argue that hair on the head is somehow different from fur because fur stops growing when it reaches a certain length, but our head hair continues to grow. To drive home their argument, they ask in a recent article in the journal Evolutionary Anthropology, "Have you ever seen a chimpanzee getting a haircut?" See article.
g Message – Though a repeat, CNN explores SETI in the hour-long “CNN Presents: ‘Is Anybody Out There: The Search for Life in the Universe.’” It’s an objective but basic overview of humanity’s efforts. It starts 5 a.m. CST Saturday.
g Cosmicus – NASA's Cassini spacecraft is set to cap off 2004 with an encounter of Saturn's ying-yang moon Iapetus. Iapetus is a world of sharp contrasts. The leading hemisphere is as dark as a freshly tarred street, and the white, trailing hemisphere resembles freshly fallen snow. See article.
g Learning – Digitalis Education Solutions has published 12 astronomy lesson plans for use with kindergarten through 12th grade students. Lessons are aligned with the National Science Education Standards and cover a variety of topics, including moon phases, solstices, equinoxes and debunking astrology. See article.
g Imagining – Those of you who’ve been following this blog for the “Star Trek” aliens feature may be interested to know that “Star Trek: The Animated Series” will be released on DVD come March 15. Those of us who were kids in the early and mid 1970s discovered “Star Trek” via the cartoons, which could be as good as the best episodes — and as bad as the worse — of The Original Series. To celebrate the release, beginning March 15, I’ll review an alien from each episode, in the order they appear on the DVD. So, watch an episode a day then check here for whether that alien really could exist or not. I’ll try until then to discuss aliens that appear in both The Original Series and the cartoons. In the meantime, there’s a new piece out about sex and sci fi aliens here. It focuses on the presentation of reproduction in science fiction but crosses over into some astrobiological issues.
g Aftermath – Once scientists are certain that we’ve received a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization, how would we decide to respond? Read the proposal “A Decision Process for Examining the Possibility of Sending Communications to Extraterrestrial Civilizations”, made at the International Academy of Astronautics meeting in Paris during 2000.

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