Saturday, December 18, 2004

Comets, language and the salt vampire

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation.
g Stars – NASA launch and flight teams are in final preparations for the planned Jan. 12 liftoff of the Deep Impact spacecraft, which will examine the nucleus of comet Tempel 1. The information will help us better understand how our solar system formed. See article.
g Abodes – What caused almost all Earth life to vanish roughly 250 million years ago? Scientists debate the possibilities
g Life – Did Earth and Mars swap life in their earliest days? There’s some interesting speculation
g Intelligence – The human capacity for language may have developed when our primate ancestors established calls to communicate with one another. See
g Message – Want to help SETI discover alien life? If you haven’t already done so, download the free SETI at Home software. Using Internet-connected computers, the program downloads and analyzes radio telescope data on your desktop when it is idle. The program has been so successful in plowing through data that other scientific researchers, especially in medicine, are adopting it to their fields. See for the program.
g Cosmicus – Would women make better astronauts then men? New medical research indicates so. See
g Learning – Among the greatest threats to science education is widespread ignorance of evolution. Consider a letter published in today’s Florida Sun-Sentinel
. The case for evolution is overwhelming. I urge anyone living in the Sun-Sentinel’s circulation area to critically respond to the letter, pointing out the fact of evolution; the Sun-sentinel can be reached here (here are the paper’s letter submission guidelines appear).
g Imagining – Among the first and most memorable of “Star Trek” aliens is the salt vampire. Could such a creature exist, though? Forgetting the problem of its facial arrangement (eyes-nose-mouth from top to bottom), which repeats Earth’s evolutionary path for vertebrates, the salt vampire receives a mixed review. Consider its shaggy coat, which appears to be inconsistent with bipedalism in a warm climate; humans likely lost their primate hair because doing so allowed our bodies to cool better in the African savanna — and the salt vampire’s planet is hot, probably orbiting a G-class star that has entered its red giant phase (judging by climate and sky color). Of course, the creature could be a hominid that just come down from the trees, which certainly would be sparse on such a planet. But its intelligence level indicates a much longer path of evolution. Perhaps the planet was in a cold state before the star entered its red giant phase. On another note, the creature’s need for salt is voracious for the chemical is in short supply; that seems at odds with the hot desert climate for halites would form as the sun’s expansion caused the seas to evaporate. Possibly, the creature, being the last of its kind, simply had gone mad, expressing its psychosis through murder — which explains why Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock felt no mercy for it when phasering it to death at episode’s end!
g Aftermath – How will humanity react when we receive our first interstellar phone call from ET? Though not a new piece, SETI astronomer Seth Shostak offers some intriguing thoughts.

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