Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Mars’ frozen sea, the human circadian clock and ammonia-based life

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 have discovered the most distant massive structure yet detected in the universe, a fully formed galaxy cluster containing hundreds, if not thousands, of galaxies. The discovery is evidence that the universe's elegant hierarchal structure of stars, galaxies and clusters formed quickly after the Big Bang, far earlier than most astronomers thought possible just a few years ago. See article. For related story, see “Massive old galaxies starve to death in young galaxy”.
g Abodes – Mars isn't as sleepy as scientists suspected. An international research team has found evidence of recent glacial movement and volcanic eruptions in 3-D images from the Mars Express mission. The team's latest work, laid out in three Nature papers, also includes evidence of a frozen sea close to the equator. These and other Mars Express findings are stoking debate about the possibility of life on the Red Planet. See article. For related story: Mars Express finds glaciers and “hourglass” craters, click here.
g Life – What we think and what we don't know strongly affect our method of studying life in the universe — perhaps more than what we know. See article. Note: This article is from 2002.
g Intelligence – The human circadian clock, comprised of about 20,000 time-keeping cells, has mystified scientists since it was pinpointed in the brain about 30 years ago. Now a University of Calgary researcher is getting a little bit closer to understanding how it ticks. See article.
g Message – How scientifically accurate was the ultimate astrobiology film, “Contact”? See article.
g Cosmicus – A full-scale quantum computer could produce reliable results even if its components performed no better than today's best first-generation prototypes, according to a paper by a scientist at the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology. What impact might this have on space exploration? See article.
g Learning – Some IMAX theaters foolishly are refusing to show movies that mention evolution or the Big Bang because of protests by religious groups who say the ideas contradict the Bible. See article.
g Imagining – You may recall from the “Learning” entry of a few days ago that for several years a “game” called COTI has been available, in which the “players” design an integrated world, alien life form and culture and simulate contact with a future human society. Here are the results of one of those simulations, in which humanity encounters the Alchemists, sea creatures of a new taxon combining many characteristics we find in the cetaceans, crustaceans and mollusks of Earth. See article.
g Aftermath – Book alert: The authentic discovery of extraterrestrial life would usher in a scientific revolution on par with Copernicus or Darwin, says Paul Davies in his book “Are We Alone?” Just as these ideas sparked religious and philosophical controversy when they were first offered, so would proof of life arising away from Earth. With this brief book (160 pages, including two appendices and an index), Davies tries to get ahead of the curve and begin to sort out the metaphysical mess before it happens. Many science fiction writers have preceded him, of course, but here the matter is plainly put. This is a very good introduction to a compelling subject. See reviews.

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