Saturday, February 26, 2005

Black hole signatures, not so useless DNA fragments and aliens on film

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 – European astronomers succeeded for the first time in confirming the signatures in the light of the cosmic X-ray background near black holes predicted by Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. See article.
g Abodes – How does an arid and bone-dry landscape form the largest canyon in the solar system? The question on Mars maps to the Valles Marineris, a crack in the planet so large as to dwarf the Grand Canyon and a primary imaging target for the Mars Express spacecraft. See article
g Life – One of the key motivations for revisiting the probability of life elsewhere in the universe is the surprising proclivity of life in hostile places on Earth. New findings suggest that modern organisms may possess useless DNA fragments today that once saved their ancestors’ lives in extreme environments. See article
g Intelligence – A study by UCLA neuroscientists featuring functional magnetic resonance imaging and a well-stocked tea service suggests for the first time that mirror neurons help people understand the intentions of others — a key component to social interaction. See article.
g Message – If we are not alone in the Universe, why have we never picked up signals from an extraterrestrial civilization? Known as the Fermi paradox after physicist Enrico Fermi, who first posed the question, this long-standing puzzle remains one of the strongest arguments against the existence of intelligent aliens. But two physicists say they have come up with a solution. They suggest a way in which aliens could send messages to each other across space that not only disguises their locations but also makes it impossible for a casual observer to even distinguish the messages from background noise. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Cosmicus – The Japanese H-2A rocket returned to space today with its long-awaited mission to launch a multi-purpose satellite to serve pilots and weather forecasters throughout Asia and the Pacific. The crucial resumption of launches came 15 months after a painful failure that added to the woes that country's space program encountered in recent years. See article.

g Learning – The next few days is a great time to get kids interested in backyard astronomy. Why? There will be a stellar eclipse on Thursday (see article). Also, here’s a great set of tips for better stargazing.
g Imagining – During the past several years, evolutionary biologists have proved that the disparate creatures of our planet are, at a fundamental genetic level, very similar to one another. The genes that differentiate the top and the bottom of a bug, for instance, are the same ones that differentiate our fronts from our backs. According to the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, this new understanding is among "the most stunning evolutionary discoveries of the decade," and is clearly "a dominant theme in evolution." The same law applies, it appears, to the extraterrestrial creatures that come out of Hollywood. See article.
g Aftermath – One of our natural tendencies when we make contact with strangers is to try to impress them. Sloppy dressers might polish their shoes for a job interview, hopeful suitors will wash their cars for a first date and prospective children-in-law will be on their best behavior in the presence of the parents of their intended. Wouldn’t we want to do the same in our first contact with ET? Lewis Thomas, in his book “Lives of a Cell,” suggests that if we want to impress an alien civilization, we should send "Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again." See article.

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