Friday, February 25, 2005

Invisible galaxy, Saturn’s oxygen story and Klingons

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 – Astronomers have discovered an invisible galaxy that could be the first of many that will help unravel one of the universe's greatest mysteries. The object appears to be made mostly of "dark matter," material of an unknown nature that can't be seen. See article.
g Abodes – Oxygen along with water are considered interesting biosignatures to look for when encountering other planets. On Saturn, the oxygen story can be misleading, if one speculates that its presence gives biology a leg-up. See article
g Life – The discovery that zinc contained in the hemoglobin of deep-sea tubeworms is used to bind and transport nutrients to symbiotic bacteria will be published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science earlier this month. Further research with the hemoglobin could lead to its use in a variety of ways, including as an artificial substitute for oxygen carriers in human blood. See article.
g Intelligence – Book alert: Seeking alternatives to the conventional approach, which uses psychometric intelligence tests to explore the nature of intelligence, in “The Evolution of Intelligence,” by Robert J. Sternberg and James C. Kaufman, 15 contributions from professionals involved with evolutionary psychology discuss various aspects of how intelligence evolved and what (as well as whether or not) evolutionary theory helps in understanding the nature of human intelligence. Topics include the primate origins of human intelligence, evolution of the generative mind, evolutionary contagion in mental software, evolution of avian intelligence (with an emphasis on gray parrots) and intelligence as predisposed skeptical induction engines. See reviews.
g Message – Most SETI programs scan the sky looking for strong radio signals. Any signals that are deemed interesting are put on a list for follow-up observations weeks, months — even years later. Long delays in verification of potential ET signals sometimes generate tantalizing, but ultimately frustrating, stories. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Cosmicus – Reusable spaceplanes that propel ticket-holding passengers to the edge of space are slowly becoming reality. Among several firms literally hammering away at this prospect is Rocketplane Limited, Inc., an Oklahoma corporation. The spaceliner’s first commercial passenger flight? Early 2007. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat lesson plan, “E.T. Can’t Phone Home”, that teaches some basic principles of astronomy.

g Imagining – The current episodes (last Friday’s and today’s) of “Star Trek: Enterprise” deal with the complex issue of how Klingons got ridges. They didn’t have them in The Original Series but did in all other incarnations, including the prequel. So how did it happen? With some genetic engineering and mutating flu viruses. Say, if you like Klingons, check out this Web site. It’s got a load of links about Star Trek’s most famous alien race, which is a little more human that most of us will admit.
g Aftermath – We humans are familiar with the back-and-forth of face-to-face contact — something we likely will not have in an interstellar conversation. The timescale of a human life may well not be enough for a meaningful dialogue with another species. Interstellar dialogue may make sense only across generations. See article.

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