Sunday, April 24, 2005

Swift mission, Biosphere 2 and non-peaceful aliens

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 – Understanding how events that originate in space could affect the future of the Earth and its environment is an important goal of astrobiology. That’s why the NASA-led Swift mission was launched. Find out what happened when they recently opened Swift’s doors.
g Abodes – In Oracle, Ariz., the Biosphere 2 project became the world's largest closed ecosystem. Project managers have now opened its interior to visitors. Among the diverse land, water and air environments enclosed under glass, most of the planet's major biomes are represented to view. As one of the few models for space colonization, the ecosystem has examples of coral reefs and savannahs. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Life – In assessing the possibility that life either exists now, or has in the past, on some other planet or moon, we must be able to evaluate whether the conditions there are, or were, compatible with life as we know it on Earth. As Alfred Russel Wallace emphasized at the beginning of the 20th century, the first requirement for life is liquid water; without it, as far as we know, life is impossible. The same reasoning also applies to organic compounds. Carbon-based polymers such as nucleic acids and proteins make up the core molecules required to carry out the central biological functions of replication and catalysis. Without these functions, life as we know it could not exist. See article. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Intelligence – The discovery that new neurons can appear in the adult brain may be the most surprising of the last quarter century of neuroscience. The scale of the phenomenon and its significance remain to be established, but it appears that one of the oldest dogmas in the business is not true. There have also been important paradigm shifts. For example: the notion that in the nervous system, as much as in the immune system, selection from among diverse elements is more important than instruction to shaping a functional structure; the notion that feeling and consciousness can be approached by neurobiology, no less so than memory or language; the notion that emotion and reason are not separate developments in evolution but related and interactive processes; and the notion that most neural events indispensable for mental states occur at the nonconscious level and that this goes well beyond the Freudian nonconscious (which is there, too). See article.
g Message – Book alert: In “Are We Alone? Scientists Search for Life in Space,” a rare combination of engaging narrative and factual information, Gloria Skurzynski uses techniques she's developed as a fiction writer to energize her science writing. This book not only brings the reader into the world of extra-terrestrial science, but is also very much about the hopes and dreams of real people. She lends a strong personal voice to the narrative, drawing the reader deep into the world of extraterrestrial study. Humans have always been fascinated with extraterrestrial life, and the book traces that interest, including the origination of the term "flying saucer." Sloan also explains why scientists don't buy it. See reviews.
g Cosmicus – Male astronauts exposed to cosmic rays in space are not likely to pass on possible mutations caused by the rays to their offspring, according to a new study by a collaboration that includes a scientist from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat lesson, courtesy of NASA: “The Expanding Universe.” Students create a balloon model of the expanding universe and review Hubble Space Telescope measurements that are refining estimates for the age of the universe. See article.
g Imagining – Life can be defined in many ways, but basically it involves an organism reproducing. If you believe that evolution is true (and many people, it seems, do not) you'll realize that organisms gradually grow more complex due to natural selection and survival of the fittest. This applies to all life. So why isn't it possible for there to be a society where organisms are peaceful all the time? See article.
g Aftermath – How might we characterize the political significance of any announcement of discovering extraterrestrial intelligence? How about using the Torino Scale, which characterizes asteroid impacts, as a model to assist the discussion and interpretation of any claimed discovery of ETI? See article.

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