Friday, April 29, 2005

Stellar nursery, virus evolution and reasoning infants

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 – Appearing like a winged fairy-tale creature poised on a pedestal, the Eagle Nebula is actually a billowing tower of cold gas and dust rising from a stellar nursery. The soaring tower is 9.5 light-years or about 57 trillion miles high, about twice the distance from our Sun to the next nearest star. See article.
g Abodes – Researchers at the British Antarctic Survey and the University of California, Santa Cruz have discovered that Earth's last great global warming period, 3 million years ago, may have been caused by levels of CO2 in the atmosphere similar to today's. See article.
g Life – Researchers from the Viikki Biocenter, University of Helsinki, show that atomic structures can reveal evolutionary history of viruses in a similar fashion as fossils did for the dinosaurs and reptiles. Their article is published in the April 15 issue of Molecular Cell. See article.
g Intelligence – According to conventional wisdom, babies don't begin to develop sophisticated psychological reasoning about people until they are about 4 years old. A study of 15-month-olds at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign proves otherwise. See article.
g Message – Phoning home intergalactically may have one natural prerequisite if a civilization is hoping to connect: timing their precursor signal or 'ring' so that we might know that they're broadcasting. Dr. Robin Corbet, of the Universities' Space Research Association discusses his research findings on Synchronized SETI. See article. Note: This article is from 2002.
g Cosmicus – Book alert: The title of “Spacefaring: The Human Dimension,” really ought to be “Spacefarers,” because unlike many space travel authors, Albert Harrison, a professor of psychology, focuses primarily on the people doing the traveling. On the technological side, he explores astronaut selection and training, medical and environmental hazards, and issues of life support and habitation. He pays equal attention to "soft" science aspects of human space travel, such as the stresses that arise from working and surviving in space, group dynamics among astronauts, and even off-duty time (and it is here that Harrison boldly goes where few space authors have gone before — into the realm of sex in space). See reviews.
g Learning – Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: “Life Cycle of Stars”. Students analyze characteristics that indicate human life cycles, and then apply these observational principles to various NASA pictures of stars to synthesize patterns of stellar life cycles.
g Imagining – What should science fiction writers consider when creating a new alien species? Here’s a list of some important considerations as part of a lesson from a class on “world building”.
g Aftermath – The structure of terrestrial music might provide clues to creating interstellar messages that could be understood by extraterrestrial intelligence. In the process, he suggests that music may provide a means of communicating "something of our consciousness that is essentially human, regardless of the civilization from which it emerges." See article. Note: This article is from 2002.

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