Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Life’s treeline, mind reading and the fascination of the alien

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 – Why is the universe expanding at an accelerating rate, spreading its contents over ever greater dimensions of space? An original solution to this puzzle, certainly the most fascinating question in modern cosmology, has been put forward by four theoretical physicists. See article.
g Abodes – Planetary scientist Chris McKay describes one of the driest place on Earth and how one might test for the equivalent of a bacterial “treeline,” a region so harsh in the Andes Mountains where even microbes cannot thrive. See article.
g Life – When male animals strut their stuff — the rainbow plumes of peacocks, the mighty tusks of an elephant — they might be flaunting their potential for fatherhood, researchers in Spain say. See article.
g Intelligence – Can people read minds? No — but they can play head games. See article.
g Message – Scientists find it hard enough to pin down evidence of early life on our own planet. How on Earth do we plan to determine whether life exists elsewhere? See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Cosmicus – About five minutes after space station commander Leroy Chiao and Salizhan Sharipov wrapped up a successful early morning spacewalk, one of the station's two operational control moment gyroscopes, used to stabilized the complex and change its orientation, experienced an unusually high vibration. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat classroom activity: Explore the necessity of using special tools and equipment to do work and solve problems in space. The activity is for grades 2-5.
g Imagining – The alien fascinates us. Tolkien's elves, Asimov's robots, Niven and Pournelle's Moties: They all serve the same essential function — to draw us outside ourselves and present us with something that is other. Compelling aliens are bulwarks of science fiction and fantasy that entice readers back again and again. But what fascinates the reader often frustrates the writer. On the one hand, it is both unwise and exhausting to allow the aliens to overwhelm the story. Hardened science fiction readers may be willing to follow your thought experiment through to the bitter end, but most readers will grow bored of technical details and aliens so strange that they cannot empathize with them — particularly when writers become so fascinated by the aliens that they forget to lavish the same care and attention on the humans in the story. On the other hand, modern readers are also demanding about the details of aliens. Bug eyes and feathered crests are no longer enough to make an alien; pointy ears and a lisp cannot make a convincing elf these days. See article.
g Aftermath – What should we say to an extraterrestrial? Try the World Wide Web. SETI astronomer Seth Shostak opines here.

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