Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Gravity leak, information theory and Fermi’s Paradox, Part III

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 – Scientists may not have to go over to the dark side to explain the fate of the universe. New York University physicist Georgi Dvali is challenging the theory that the accelerated expansion of the universe is caused by mysterious “dark energy”. He thinks there's just a gravity leak. See article.
g Abodes – After a year's delay, the MARSIS instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter will soon be deployed. In this interview, Jeffrey Plaut of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory describes how the radar instrument could uncover how much, if any, liquid water lies hidden below the surface of Mars. See article
g Life – Using genetics, Navy sonar, deep-sea submersibles, and toxicology, scientists are peering into the lives of whales – past and present – in ways never before possible. See article.
g Intelligence – A biology research team is using statistical tools from a field known as "information theory" to measure the complexity of different species’ communication systems and thus learn how much information individual animals can transfer between each other. This allows the scientists to draw inferences about the intelligence of the communicating species, which in turn gives researchers of the Drake Equation’s Fi (fraction of planets on which intelligence develops) a better understanding of intelligence as an evolutionary adaptation. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Message – Fermi’s Paradox, Part III: We seem to have the galaxy to ourselves. At least, that’s the obvious conclusion from the apparent lack of aliens in the neighborhood. But this conclusion might be a bit too obvious, and possibly wrong. In previous articles, we’ve considered why extraterrestrial intelligence – even if common – would have restrained itself from spreading to every half-decent star system in the galaxy. It’s possible that the aliens have done cost-benefit analyses that show interstellar travel to be too costly or too dangerous to warrant ambitious colonization efforts. An alternative suggestion that would explain our apparent solitude is that the Galaxy is urbanized, and we’re in a dullsville suburb. See article. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Cosmicus – A cargo vessel stuffed with much-needed repair kits, food, water and rocket fuel for the International Space Station launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Monday, beginning a two-day trek to the high-flying laboratory. See article.
g Learning – National Geographic has some great science lesson plans for K-12 teacher son its Web site. One in particular grabbed my attention: It introduces students to the idea that animals prefer certain types of habitats over others and, in fact, cannot live in places that are too different from what they prefer. Students specifically focus on dinosaurs. See article
g Imagining – If you’re looking for a list of “Star Trek” aliens (with pictures!) from across each of the franchise’s series, click here. While short on evolutionary data about each species, the site offers the basic facts given in each episode. Notice the preponderance of humanoid aliens.
g Aftermath – Movie aliens often are like distant relatives: They resemble us in an unpleasant sort of way. This is hardly a surprise. Hollywood creates characters that audiences can identify with, and that’s why its aliens are so anthropomorphic (and why Donald Duck looks more like a human than a duck.) But appearances aside, cinema aliens have another implausible attribute: they’re nearly always at our level of technical sophistication. We frequently trade gunfire with them or chase them around in dogfights. This is silly, of course. Any beings capable of bridging the vast distances between the stars would be able to clean our clock when it comes to science and engineering. Visitors from other worlds — should any appear — would be enormously ahead of us from a technological viewpoint. See article. Note: This article is from 2000.

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