Sunday, April 10, 2005

Star reborn, controlling flies’ minds and gravitropism

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 – An old star that's been reborn has surprised researchers by flying through the process 100 times faster than predicted. See article.
g Abodes – Here’s an article, by extrasolar planet discoverers Geoffrey W. Marcy and R. Paul Butler, which appeared in the March 1998 issue of Scientific American. It provides an overview of the techniques used then (and currently) to detect extrasolar planets as well as future techniques now under development. See article.
g Life – Yale University School of Medicine researchers have found a way to exercise a little mind control over fruit flies, making the flies jump, beat their wings and fly on command by triggering genetic remote controls that the scientists designed and installed in the insects' central nervous systems. See article.
g Intelligence – Zinc may give teenagers a mental edge. Researchers found that adding the mineral to the diets of middle schoolers led to improvements in their memories and attention spans. See article.
g Message – Book alert: In response to Enrico Fermi's famous 1950 question concerning the existence of advanced civilizations elsewhere, physicist Stephen Webb in “If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens... Where Is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to Fermi's Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life” critically examines 50 resolutions to explain the total absence of empirical evidence for probes, starships, and communications from extraterrestrials. He focuses on our Milky Way Galaxy, which to date has yielded no objects or signals that indicate the existence of alien beings with intelligence and technology. His comprehensive analysis covers topics ranging from the Drake equation and Dyson spheres to the panspermia hypothesis and anthropic arguments. Of special interest are the discussions on the DNA molecule, the origin of life on Earth, and the threats to organic evolution on this planet (including mass extinctions). Webb himself concludes that the "great silence" in nature probably results from humankind's being the only civilization now in this galaxy, if not in the entire universe. This richly informative and very engaging book is recommended for most academic and public library science collections. See reviews.
g Cosmicus – A team of biologists from the University of California-Riverside has used chemical genomics to identify novel compounds that affect the ability of plants to alter their direction of growth in response to gravity, a phenomenon known as gravitropism. Combined with a plant's formidable genetic map, chemical genomics is becoming a powerful new tool in plant biology. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: "Measuring meteorological data from Mars". Students compare real-time Earth and Mars weather measurements for temperature, wind speed, humidity and atmospheric pressure by accessing Internet-data resources from NASA.
g Imagining – Our human culture and physiology arose from our planet of origin's ecology. Our basic survival instincts were formed according to the surroundings in which we were raised. And our speech patterns evolved according to the region we were born. Why then, would a writer assume that an alien being, who looks different to the humans around him, would still walk and talk and think the same way, if he was raised in extremely different circumstances? See article.
g Aftermath – In the absence of knowledge of physical and cultural clues, communication between two species can be almost impossible — almost. See article. Note: This article is from 1999.

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