Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Mars update, primitive brain structures and insectoid aliens

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 –For more than 30 years, astrophysicists have believed that black holes can swallow nearby matter and release a tremendous amount of energy as a result. Until recently, however, the mechanisms that bring matter close to black holes have been poorly understood, leaving researchers puzzled about many of the details of the process. See article.
g Abodes –At the recent European Space Agency's Mars Express conference, scientists announced they had found a frozen sea on the martian equator. John Murray, from the Department of Earth Sciences at the Open University in the UK, is lead author on the paper to be published in the journal Nature. Astrobiology Magazine editor Leslie Mullen sat down with Murray to discuss the new finding. See article. For related stories about Mars, see “Next on Mars” and “Dry signs of life”.
g Life – If ancient plants had not migrated from the shallow seas of early Earth to the barren land of the continents, life as we know it might never have emerged. And now it appears this massive floral colonization may have been spurred by a single genetic mutation that allowed primitive plants to make lignin, a chemical process that leads to the formation of a cell wall. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Intelligence – Primitive structures deep within the brain may have a far greater role in our high-level everyday thinking processes than previously believed, report researchers at the MIT Picower Center for Learning and Memory in the Feb. 24 issue of Nature . See article.
g Message – Searches for extraterrestrial intelligence are about to expand into new realms, thanks to new advances in technology — and new thinking. See article.
g Cosmicus – Even skeptical locals, who've become wary over the years of city slickers with big ideas for their town, perked up when Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos made his pitch — a spaceport for commercial travel into the beyond. Bezos said Blue Origin would first build basic structures at the Texas site, such as an engine test stand, fuel and water tanks and an office building. See article.
g Learning – Since the advent of Darwinism in the mid-19th century, a variety of movements have jousted for the intellectual high ground in the epic evolution versus creationism debate. During the last decade or so, yet another movement has forged a claim in the high-stakes contest for intellectual primacy in the apparently ceaseless battle over the origins of life. The newest combatants, known as "intelligent-design theorists," reject both theistic and naturalistic evolution and, instead, claim evidence of the hand of an unknown "intelligent designer" in the genesis of life — and it’s affecting science instruction in our schools. See article.
g Imagining – Could the insectoid alien in “Star Trek: The Animated Series” (released today on DVD) episode “Beyond the Farthest Star” exist (see picture)? Probably not. The great flaw is that a size limit exists on insects. First, insects possess a chitinous exoskeleton. The larger this structure gets, the more likely it is to collapse under its own weight. If the pod spaceship’s former inhabitants are the size of humans and descended from an insect race, their ancestors likely shed their exoskeleton tens of millions of years before. Secondly, insects distribute oxygen through their bodies via tubes and holes. The larger the creature, the less efficient is this system of respiration. If the aliens are descended from insects, their ancestors almost certainly developed a respiratory system, such as gills or lungs. In short, the insectoids may be descended from insects, but just as certainly as humans, descended from fish that crawled out of the sea and made a home on the solid earth, are no longer fish, so this alien species cannot insects. Interestingly, the author gives little thought to how this species might evolve into an intelligent, human-sized species as much as using the insect form to describe the alien qualities of the ship (which is divided into pods, as might be an insect hive or nest).
g Aftermath – When we first meet extraterrestrials, will we and they be able to converse? An MIT professor argues that we will — provided they are motivated to cooperate — because we'll both think similar ways. See article. Note: This article is from 1985.

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