Wednesday, April 13, 2005

New type of star cluster and noncorporeal 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 – A British-led team of astronomers has discovered a completely new type of star cluster around a neighboring galaxy. The new found clusters contain hundreds of thousands of stars, a similar number to the so-called "globular" star clusters which have long been familiar to astronomers. See article.
g Abodes – Scientists may be able to identify habitable conditions and evidence of life on planets outside our solar system using spectroscopic analysis. See article. Note: This article is from 2002.
g Life – Finding life elsewhere in the universe depends on knowing when you see it, according to Colorado professor Carol Cleland. She gives a view of how life might not need a working definition as much as a theory of life — at least until scientists find a few more exceptions to prove the rules. See article.
g Intelligence – College seems to pay off well into retirement. A new study from the University of Toronto sheds light on why higher education seems to buffer people from cognitive declines as they age. See article.
g Message – Book alert: Despite an evidently open-minded attitude, Barry Parker delivers the hard line to ET enthusiasts in “Alien Life: The Search for Extraterrestrials and Beyond": "Strangely, we haven't found a single sign of life beyond our solar system." The emeritus Idaho State University professor of astronomy and physics summarizes recent scientific conjecture on extraterrestrial life without venturing much personal speculation. He considers the "architecture of life" and the mystery of DNA as related to its possible exploitation elsewhere; the possibility of non-carbon-based life forms; the history of Mars exploration (including the recent "meteorite from Mars" discovery); the results of NASA space probes; the discovery of distant planets through advanced telescopy; and the SETI program's search for alien radio signals. Parker acknowledges the contentions of UFO believers, but devotes few pages to claims of alien encounters such as the well-known Roswell incident. Steering clear of that controversy as "an argument not likely to be resolved in the near future," Parker's hopeful and energetic book ends up reinforcing the science establishment's lonely outlook for humanity, but still leaves room for the possibility that if they are out there, we will find them, or they, us. See reviews.
g Cosmicus – Simulated moon dust has been used to make the substrate of a solar cell, according to University of Houston researchers. The fine gray powder is 50 percent silicon dioxide, along with a mixture of oxides of 12 different metals — including aluminum, magnesium and iron. What effect might this have on space exploration? See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: Who Can Live Here? Students explore the limits of life on Earth to extend their beliefs about life to include its possibility on other worlds. See activity.
g Imagining – Can life ever be noncorporeal, as are Star Trek’s Organians? See article.
g Aftermath – Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence depends as much upon social support for the project as upon appropriate engineering design and upon the actual existence of a nearby extrasolar civilization. The results of a sociological survey of 1,465 American college students provide the first detailed analysis of the social and ideological factors that influence support for CETI, thereby suggesting ways that support might be increased. Linked to the most idealistic goals of the space program, notably interplanetary colonization, enthusiasm for CETI is little affected by attitudes toward technology or militarism. Few sciences or scholarly fields encourage CETI, with the exceptions of anthropology and astronomy. Support is somewhat greater among men than among women, but the sex difference is far less than in attitudes toward space flight in general. Evangelical Protestantism, represented by the "Born Again" movement, strongly discourages support for CETI. Just as exobiology begins with an understanding of terrestrial biology, exosociology on the question of how interstellar contact can be achieved should begin with serious sociological study of factors operating on our own world. See article.

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