Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Black holes creating new stars, organic-less Mars and Star Trek’s single-cell amoeba

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
Stars – Astronomers have discovered how ominous black holes can create life in the form of new stars, proving that jet-induced star formation may have played an important role in the formation of galaxies in the early universe. See article.
g Abodes – Meteorites and comets should have delivered vast amounts of organic chemicals to Mars, yet the Viking mission found no organics in the red soil. A new hypothesis by Sushil Atreya suggests how dust storms may zap away any chances for life on the Martian surface. See article.
g Life – What are some possible connections between interstellar chemistry and the origin of life on the Earth? See overview and some links.
g Intelligence – Bees do it. Birds do it. So do fish and wildebeests. And what about people? See article.
g Message – Book alert: “SETI 2020: A Roadmap for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” by Ronald D. Ekers, D. Kent Cullers and John Billingham reviews the history of the search and lays out a plan for SETI's next 15 years. It presents sober science that holds out an awesome prospect should the search succeed — and though a couple of years old now, is still a relevant guide. See
g Cosmicus – Safe on Mars, part I: Every 2 years from 2001 to 2011, with the dates dictated by launch windows, another spacecraft, launched by NASA and/or NASA's international partners, is intended to visit Mars. How best to cope with the dangers to human space travel so far from home? See article
g Learning – A few days ago, I noted a neat science fiction alien reading list from Prof. Joan Slonczewski, who taught “Biology 103: Biology in Science Fiction” at Kenyon College in 2003. Her students, using astrobiological principles, attempted to create a number of plausible alien civilizations and worlds as a class project. One of the projects was a “biology bedtime story” for kids, “Ellie and Oscar’s Trip.” See article.
g Imagining – Of all the Star Trek aliens, including the humanoids that look exactly like human beings, the most improbably has to be the single-cell amoeba in The Original Series’ episode “The Immunity Syndrome” (see picture). The problem is that the laws of biology and physics demand that any creature larger than a microbe be multi-cellular — yet this amoeba is 11,000 miles across! Limits exist to an organism’s size because of “diffusion,” or the principle that substances from outside the organism must pass into and throughout the creature; the larger an organism, the greater the distance to its center, and hence diffusion slows. Large creatures get around this problem through many, many cells spread out over large surface areas, in short distances from one another and in differences of concentrations. In short, the “single-cell” creature could exist (though still improbably) if it consisted of multiple cells spread out over 11,000 miles, but not as a single cell of that size. At the same time, let me note that this episode does offer a lot of neat action that can serve as a starting point to explaining and understanding immunology; see article for details.
g Aftermath – Recently The Institute in its Marketplace of Ideas asked members about the search for extraterrestrial life. Is there life out there? Should we look? Who should pay for the search? What will be the effect of contact? Respondents had some very different opinions. See article.

Get your SF book manuscript edited

No comments: