Thursday, December 30, 2004

Chimps' violent side, new "War of the Worlds" and Talosians

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 – Infrared and X-ray data now provide evidence for a large amount of dust and gas along the line of sight to the cluster, DB01-42, which is located near the Galactic Center, about 25,000 light years from Earth. The cluster is Invisible to optical telescopes. See article.
g Abodes – NASA research indicates some clouds that form on tiny haze particles are not cooling the Earth as much as previously thought. These findings have implications for the ability to predict changes in climate. See article.
g Life – High-flying hummingbirds have bigger wings than lowlanders, a new study found, but when it comes to evasive and aggressive maneuvering, bigger is not always better. See article.
g Intelligence – Researchers explore the violent side of chimps — which uncannily resemble our own worst moments — on the National Geographic Channel’s “Dark Side of Chimps.” The hour-long program starts at 9 p.m. CST Friday and will be repeated twice later that night.
g Message – What’s in store for SETI next year? SETI scientist Seth Shostak explains here.
g Cosmicus – Two astronauts circling the Earth aboard the International Space Station say they’re eagerly awaiting the start of 2005, which they expect to be a busy one for the orbital platform now that it has been restocked with supplies. See article.
g Learning – There's a good op-ed by Nobel Prize winner David Baltimore in today's Iowa City (Iowa) Press-Citizen warning that America's scientific supremacy is slipping. He blames more than the education system. See column.

g Imagining – Star Trek’s very first alien, the Talosians, pose quite an evolutionary challenge: Their heads are oversized because of large, powerful brains capable of telepathy and even mind control of others. First off, a brain of that size must demand a lot of energy. This is somewhat addressed through the large arteries and veins apparent on their bald heads; their frail bodies also indicate fewer cells below the neckline for oxygen-carrying blood to support. But they probably also need greater lung capacity to cycle more oxygen into their bodies as well as a larger heart for pumping that oxygen-laden blood to and through the brain. Their bodies don’t indicate larger lungs, however. Another problem with their head/brain size is giving birth. The enormity of the head is limited by the size and shape of the pelvis — and their human shape and gait indicates they couldn’t give birth to an infant with a head any larger than ours. A possibility is that their the brain primarily develops outside of the womb; perhaps they grow in their telepathic powers as they age. Another possibility: They are not born naturally but artificially created, indicating a separation from among the most basic instincts – mating. The Talosians, after all, are fairly unimaginative creatures, dependent upon probing the minds of others for new experiences! As for their telepathic and power of illusion capabilities, we’ll just have to presume that somehow their brain lobes have evolved sections capable of connecting and interacting across the medium of air with another creature’s neurons.
g Aftermath – “War of the Worlds” revisited: H.G. Wells' 1898 sci-fi novel of a Martian invasion, which inspired Orson Welles' public-panicking 1938 radio broadcast, is soon to be a major motion picture directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise. The new “War of the Worlds,” slated for release on June 29, takes place in the early 21st century and carries the tagline "They're already here." It remains to be seen whether the aliens will rely upon the intense Heat-Ray described by Wells or whether extraterrestrial technology has improved during the past century. See article for details.

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