Friday, April 08, 2005

Gamma-ray extinction, galactic probes and Star Trek biology

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 almost 100 years, scientists have been searching for direct evidence of the existence of gravity waves — faint ripples in the fabric of space-time predicted in Albert Einstein's theory of General Relativity. See article.
g Abodes – Scientists at NASA and the University of Kansas say that a mass extinction on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago could have been triggered by a star explosion called a gamma-ray burst. The scientists do not have direct evidence that such a burst activated the ancient extinction. The strength of their work is their atmospheric modeling — essentially a "what if" scenario. See article.
g Life – A new University of Colorado at Boulder study indicates Earth in its infancy probably had substantial quantities of hydrogen in its atmosphere, a surprising finding that may alter the way many scientists think about how life began on the planet. See article.
g Intelligence – New fossil finds and a computer reconstruction of a skull bolster the case that an ancient creature that grabbed headlines in 2002 really is the earliest known ancestor of modern humans, researchers say. See article.
g Message – Could extraterrestrials already have tried to contact us? On the basis of statistical calculations on galactic migration, here’s a paper that explores the possibility that exogenous vehicles and/or probes may have reached our solar system, including Earth. See article.
g Cosmicus – Like new and protective parents, engineers watched as the TETWalker robot successfully traveled across the floor recently at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Robots of this type will eventually be miniaturized and joined together to form "autonomous nanotechnology swarms" that alter their shape to flow over rocky terrain or to create useful structures like communications antennae and solar sails. See article.
g Learning – Some of the children in today's schools will grow up to be the first people to set foot on Mars. Preparing them for this experience is the objective of the Mars Project. The complete project is an educational simulation of the colonization of the Red Planet, and students get the opportunity to experience the trip and the settlement of Mars through virtual reality. Through the use of CD-ROM content, Internet communication and support teaching materials, individuals or classes will compete in simulations to reach and colonize the planet. They will have to make decisions that affect the success of their virtual explorers and colonists. Through this they will learn about science, math, economics, politics and social studies. See article.
g Imagining – A few weeks ago, I mentioned the book “The Biology of Star Trek”, which examined the plausibility of the more famous ”Star Trek” aliens.
g Aftermath – For some provocative reading, pick up “Sharing the Universe,” by Seth Shostak, at your local bookstore. SETI scientist Shostak almost single-handedly is outlining social and political issues that will arise once we make contact with extraterrestrials. See reviews.

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