Saturday, February 12, 2005

Extrasolar planets, glia and the Drake Equation re-examined

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 – Through winter, two of the brightest and best known of stars — Rigel and Betelgeuse — shine upon the Northern Hemisphere. Here are their life stories.
g Abodes – Be sure to catch tomorrow’s radio broadcast of the SETI Institute’s weekly radio program, “Are We Alone,” when the show examines the rash of extrasolar planet discoveries — which now occur at the rate of one every week or two. Planets are the most obvious habitats for extraterrestrial life, so the show plans to talk with experts about what types of worlds are out there, and whether planets such as Earth are likely to be rare or as common as pill bugs. Click here for radio stations and times or to download the program from the Web archives.
g Life – Did life shape the early Earth, or did the early Earth shape life? The choice may be a false dichotomy, but living without light, water or oxygen gave the earliest microbes a limited menu to order their lives around. See article.
g Intelligence – Communication in the brain travels from one nerve cell to another through critical connections called synapses. These neuron-to-neuron junctions form early in brain development, and their construction was thought to be guided by the nerve cells themselves. Now, investigators supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, have discovered that cells called glia, known to provide support for neurons in the mature brain, also play a crucial role in formation of synapses during the surge of development following birth. This key insight into the process of normal synapse development may lead to improved treatment of conditions such as drug addiction and epilepsy, which are characterized in part by too many synapses. See article.
g Message – In 1961 the Drake Equation launched the search for other civilizations among the stars. How does it look today? What is the chance of finding aliens? See article.
g Cosmicus – After weeks of internal debate, testing and analyses, NASA managers this week selected four rudimentary tile and wing leading edge repair techniques to demonstrate during the first post-Columbia shuttle mission. See article. In addition, NASA has set the astronaut rosters for the next several shuttle flights; see article.
g Learning – There’s a neat set of online activities, primarily for older teens or young adults, about communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence here. It helps students learn about SETI while they send one another messages then decode them, as if they were alien civilizations on distant worlds.

g Imagining – Book alert: You’ve got to read Aliens and Alien Societies (Science Fiction Writing Series), by Stanley Schmidt. Whether you're a writer or a reader of science fiction, this how-to guide provides thought-provoking analyses of the ways in which aliens and alien societies can be portrayed convincingly. It's as fascinating as the many classic SF texts it examines. See reviews.
g Aftermath – Here’s an intriguing paper published just last month and translated from German for “Futurological Reflections on the Confrontation of Mankind with an Extraterrestrial Civilization.”

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