Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Lightning cleaner, mass extinctions on cycle and anthropomorphism

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 – Black holes have a reputation for voraciously eating everything in their immediate neighborhood, but these large gravity wells also affect electromagnetic radiation — and may hinder our ability to ever locate the center of the universe, according to an international research team. See article.
g Abodes – When lightning makes your favorite AM radio station crackle and pop, it’s also cleaning up a radiation hazard overhead. Lightning in clouds only a few miles above the ground clears a safe zone in the radiation belts thousands of miles above the Earth. See article.
g Life – A detailed and extensive new analysis of the fossil records of marine animals over the past 542 million years has yielded a stunning surprise: Biodiversity appears to rise and fall in mysterious cycles of 62 million years for which science has no satisfactory explanation. See article.
g Intelligence – Although they are dramatically different, words and faces are both recognized by parts, according to a study published in February in the Journal of Vision. See article.
g Message – Here’s an interesting proposal: Search for extraterrestrial intelligence by analyzing cosmic radiation for signals. See article.
g Cosmicus – Can a robot learn to navigate like a cockroach? To help researchers find out if a mechanical device can mimic the pesky insect's behavior, a Johns Hopkins engineering student has built a flexible, sensor-laden antenna. See article.
g Learning – You have to learn to crack eggs if you're going to cook an omelet. You have to jump in the water if you're going to learn to swim. And you have to get your hands on telescopes that can search for signs of life beyond Earth if you're going to study extraterrestrial biology. That's why 14 University of Washington graduate biology students will be at Kitt Peak National Observatory this week to learn observing techniques from University of Arizona and National Optical Astronomy Observatory astronomers. See article.
g Imagining – Contrary to earlier reports in this column, “Star Trek: The Animated Series” was not released on DVD Tuesday; reports now say it’s been delayed to sometime next year. We had planned to discuss the evolution and plausibility of each alien in the cartoon series; without the DVD release, however, we’ll return to “The Original Series” and continue working our way through the franchise in chronological order. So here’s today’s topic: What exactly is “anthropomorphism,” which is a major problem of “Star Trek” aliens?
g Aftermath – How would proof of extraterrestrial intelligence affect humanity’s “world” view? Astronomer Steve Dick discusses the matter in this transcribed Smithsonian Institute lecture, from 1999.

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