Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Happy winter solstice!

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 - Happy winter solstice. Quite a number of newspapers have written short editorials about the significance of today (and it goes far beyond "paganism"). See The Des Moines Register's "Solstice reborn as hope, wonder " at  and the Sun-Herald's "Yet another day to tame the monsters of chaos". Here's a little background on the winter solstice.
g Abodes - From "The Earth is unchanging - NOT" file: A high-flying observatory reveals land changing to desert. See article.
g Life - "Dino bone digger handed $100 fine": Too bad it wasn't more. "Poachers" of dinosaur bones and other fossils pose a real threat to the scientific study of past life. See article.
g Intelligence - Some monkeys possess a complex vocal tract whose shape can be adjusted to articulate sophisticated sounds - just as humans do, scientists report. See article.
g Message - It's great to see the reputable National Geographic take the search for extraterrestrial life seriously. See article.
g Cosmicus - Might antimatter, a potential ingredient for fueling future space missions, exist over the frozen wastelands of Antarctica? See article.
g Learning - A ridiculous letter to the editor claiming scientists want to "limit free speech" by not allowing creationism to be taught alongside evolution appears in today's Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette. I urge any blog readers in the Journal-Gazette's circulation area to write a letter pointing out the flaws of this argument - particularly that we shouldn't teach "2+2=5" in math class as a potential alternative to "2+2=4" and that not teaching a falsehood is hardly limiting free speech. Send letters to the Journal Gazette (scroll down to "Letters to the Editor").
g Imagining - Could "Star Trek"'s Alfa 177 canine exist? Setting aside the facial features that show the canine is an Earth-descended vertebrate, the answer is yes. The Alfa 113 biome the Enterprise crew visits is cold but dry, perhaps a summer plain set below a great continental ice sheet. In cold climates, life forms need to be compact and/or covered in thick hair or fat; this is so with this creature. In addition, the canine's short legs indicate it need not worry about snowdrifts. Based on the creature's canine teeth and jaw structure, it must be a predator; considering the canine's size, it likely preys on creatures no larger than rats - and rodents are quite abundant on the tundra. A lack of claws indicates it doesn't burrow, however, which probably would be necessary in such a climate. Perhaps caves in the area or other creature's burrows provide shelter. As for the antenna upon its head, I'll withhold speculation!
g Aftermath - For an interesting bit of speculation about alien contact, catch "The Outer Limits" episode at 8 a.m. CST Wednesday, Dec. 23: Scientists plan to save Earth from nuclear war by uniting it against a manufactured alien foe. The Sci-Fi cable program lasts one hour.

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