Sunday, March 13, 2005

Hiding galaxies, Meteor Crater and inhabitants of Taurus II

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 – How do you hide something as big and bright as a galaxy? You smother it in cosmic dust. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope saw through such dust to uncover a hidden population of monstrously bright galaxies approximately 11 billion light-years away. See article.
g Abodes – Scientists have discovered why there isn't much impact-melted rock at Meteor Crater in northern Arizona. The iron meteorite that blasted out Meteor Crater almost 50,000 years ago was traveling much slower than has been assumed, University of Arizona Regents' Professor H. Jay Melosh and Gareth Collins of the Imperial College London report in the cover article of Nature. See article. For another article about the discovery, click here.
g Life – Yale University researchers have found that rhesus monkeys consider whether a competitor can or cannot see them when trying to steal food. See article.
g Intelligence – Generations of neuroscientists have been indoctrinated into believing that our senses, thoughts, feelings and movements are orchestrated by a communication network of brain cells or neurons, each responsible for relaying one specific chemical message called a neurotransmitter. Either neurons release a neurotransmitter that excites a neighboring cell, thereby triggering an electrical discharge and enhancing brain activity, or they dispatch a signal that quells a neuron’s activity. So, when researchers at the University of Pittsburgh discovered that immature rat brain cells could fire a simultaneous three-punch salvo — three neurotransmitters bursting out of a single cell — it was a finding they knew would excite more than just neurons. See article.
g Cosmicus – There are three initiatives from 2004 that if built upon the right way will rapidly accelerate the human breakout into space. The first was President George W. Bush’s vision of permanent human presence beyond Earth orbit. The second was the flight of Spaceship One, the first major triumph of the new space movement and its goal of opening space to everyday people; this was solidified by a multi-million-dollar contract from Virgin Galactic to build a fleet of commercial spaceships. Finally, the passage of legislation in Congress that begins to create regulatory certainty in the New Space transportation field clears the way for the long-term development of this nascent industry. See article.
g Learning – Many Americans, not just scientists, now worry that the teaching of biology will be replaced by religious indoctrination. The spread of fundamentalist Christianity is seen by many to be a force for a renewed far right political agenda, and in particular to be responsible for George W. Bush’s election victory. There is reason to be concerned — consider the recent challenges to teaching evolution in schools. See article.
g Imagining – We’ve already discussed the notion that extraterrestrials probably aren’t humanoids or even anthropoids. Considering that, there’s doesn’t seem much hope for the denizens of Taurus II in the Star Trek episode “The Galileo Seven” existing (see picture and background). But let’s suppose such parallel evolution occurred. Would these creatures have arisen in the environment portrayed in the episode — a rocky terrain with low-lying fog? Probably not. Such a climate doesn’t lend itself well to primate evolution, as anthropoids tend to live in trees and walk bipedal as the environment shifts to a savannah. Most likely the Taurans migrated to the clime, which is vaguely reminiscent of a Scottish shoreline near the North Sea. Most likely the Taurans are in a sort of “forbidden zone” as they use leather and wood despite the lack of plant life to support animals and the lack of trees. The Taurans probably spotted the shuttlecraft entering the atmosphere or coincidentally came across them while on a hunt. They almost certainly live in or beside a wooded area. A side note: The Taurans appear to have excellent hearing or sense of smell as they’re able to aim with great accuracy while the shuttlecraft crew can’t see the creatures.
g Aftermath – For the last million years or so, mankind's principal diplomatic interest has been to handle social intercourse on his own planet. Interaction with other worlds’ societies was the province of science fiction. That soon may change. Modern science and technology suggest that a transmutation of past fiction to present reality could be imminent. If so, the dynamics of interaction will surely be far different than the alien encounters routinely portrayed in the cinema and on television. The ideas developed more than a century ago by European novelists such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, while imaginative, were not prescient. The aliens won't come here, and we won't go there. Our interaction will be a distant one, conducted by the electronic equivalent of very slow diplomatic pouch. See article.

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