Friday, April 15, 2005

Star wind, desert crocs and problems in ‘Star Trek’ exobiology

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 – Astronomers have tracked the motion of a violent region where the powerful winds of two giant stars slam into each other. The collision region moves as the stars, part of a binary pair, orbit each other, and the precise measurement of its motion was the key to unlocking vital new information about the stars and their winds. See article.
g Abodes – Scientists from NAI's Virtual Planetary Laboratory recently visited the exotic lakes of Cuatro Ciengas in Mexico's Chihuahuan desert. What's being studied there may provide clues what life on other, distant worlds may be like, and help scientists understand and interpret the data coming back from extrasolar planets? See article.
g Life – Two newfound species of crocodile-like amphibians that lived more than 250 million years ago in desert conditions suggest the animal world was more diverse back then than thought. See article.
g Intelligence – A leading expert in artificial intelligence and neural networks argues that cognition in humans and many animals occurs in a very different, non-algorithmic and less complex way than has been widely assumed until now. See article.
g Message – Here’s a neat Web site about Arecibo Observatory, the large radio telescope located in Puerto Rico that was featured in the film "Contact”.
g Cosmicus – Scientists recently unveiled the tiniest electric motor ever built. You could stuff hundreds of them into the period at the end of this sentence. What effect might this have on space exploration? See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: “Interstellar Real Estate.” The lesson examines what makes Earth the perfect home for life as we know it as students explore the orbital characteristics a planetary home needs to support Earth-like life forms. See article.
g Imagining – Here’s a neat list of exobiology problems in “Star Trek”, courtesy of the Ex Astra Web site. The list includes "Strong Aliens", Shapeshifters, Pon Farr and Reading Ferengi Minds.
g Aftermath – Book alert: As many Earthlings already know —including more than 2 million computer users with firsthand experience — our best hope for finding extraterrestrial intelligence might just lie with an ingenious little screensaver. So it's not surprising that Brian McConnell’s “Beyond Contact: A Guide to SETI and Communicating with Alien Civilizations”, an introduction to searching for and communicating with intelligent life, begins with some of the details behind the University of California-Berkeley's groundbreaking, massively distributed SETI@home project, which processes intergalactic noise for pennies on the teraflop. But that's just the start of the story. Inventor and software developer McConnell continues with an overview of whether and why we might find something out there, who's doing what to look for it (including the folks at Berkeley), and — once some ET picks up on the other end — what we might say and how we might say it.

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