Saturday, April 23, 2005

Not-so-dumb animals, space debris mitigation and the Guardian of Forever

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 sky survey by Anglo-Australian astronomers has put forward a new calculation for the number of stars in the visible universe. Their estimate is larger than the number of sand grains on Earth. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Abodes – A NASA funded study has found a decline in winter and spring snow cover over Southwest Asia and the Himalayan mountain range is creating conditions for more widespread blooms of ocean plants in the Arabian Sea. See article.
g Life – It's human nature to clean for company more thoroughly than one would for oneself, but nowhere is this truth taken to greater extremes than at the Johnson Space Center. NASA is setting new standards of cleanliness in its labs that handle samples returning from space. And their efforts are laying the groundwork for samples that might some day contain evidence of extraterrestrial life from Mars, Europa and other points little known. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Intelligence – Most dog and cat owners will aver that their furry housemates are brimming with personality. But what about animals that have a less intimate relationship with us? Are birds neurotic? Can octopi be disarmingly charming? New research is teaching us how to recognize and measure animal personality. Tune in to Sunday’s “Are We Alone?” SETI’s weekly radio broadcast as they ask the experts to unravel the behavior of what once were thought to be only "dumb beasts." In addition, they'll talk about some surprising findings suggesting that having a bird brain might be nothing to be ashamed of. Here's where to tune in.
g Message – Book alert: If you are interested in how researchers plan to search the heavens for signs of intelligent life, you should have “SETI 2020” on your bookshelf. Written by Ronald D. Ekers (editor), D. Kent Cullers and John Billingham, “SETI 2020: is a remarkably comprehensive study of how scientists busy with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence should direct their efforts between now and the year 2020. Distilling the work of dozens of top SETI experts, astronomers and technology mavens, this book gives an overview of the problem of finding evidence for extraterrestrial technologies, and how to best address it. New radio telescopes consisting of large arrays of relatively small antennas are proposed and detailed. So are new types of antennas that can survey the entire sky at once. Of particular interest is the extensive treatment of optical SETI — the search for signals beamed our way using high-powered, pulsed lasers or their equivalent. A book that's interesting for both the layman and the technically sophisticated, “SETI 2020” is the definitive publication in this fascinating field. See reviews.
g Cosmicus – There is a lot of junk orbiting the Earth and the problem will worsen unless there are changes in how spacecraft operators operate. But it is not all doom and gloom. The first steps toward a comprehensive solution are already well underway including a European code of conduct for space debris mitigation. See article.
g Learning – Truth squad alert: A conservative Christian law firm has asked that two Michigan teachers be allowed to teach intelligent design alongside evolution in their science classes. Click here for the latest effort to teach biology’s equivalent of “the Earth is flat.”
g Imagining – Could Star Trek’s Guardian of Forever (click on "The Guardian of Forever) — the ancient portal that does not know if it’s a machine or a life form — evolve? The Guardian likely is an intelligent, self-aware machine. Presuming that time travel to the past is even possible, the enormous energy required to accomplish this task likely wouldn’t arise in a naturally evolving organic creature. Instead, it probably would be done mechanically (though organic elements might be incorporated into the machine’s components). Of course, a significant motif of science fiction is the question if artificial constructs that gain self-awareness then also “life” (as in The Next Generation android Data). A civilization capable of creating a stable time portal almost certainly also would be capable of creating an intelligent, self-aware machine. In short, the Guardian didn’t evolve via survival of the fittest but was built.
g Aftermath – Here’s another “old” piece worth reading: “Consequences of Success in SETI: Lessons from the History of Science”, given during a Bioastronomy Symposium in 1993.

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