Saturday, April 30, 2005

Titan’s organic atmosphere, Paleozoic ice age and powering a lunar outpost

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 – For the first time an X-ray image of a pair of interacting stars has been made by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The ability to distinguish between the interacting stars — one a highly evolved giant star and the other likely a white dwarf — allowed a team of scientists to observe an X-ray outburst from the giant star and find evidence that a bridge of hot matter is streaming between the them. See article.
g Abodes – During its closest flyby of Saturn's moon Titan earlier this month, the Cassini spacecraft found that the outer layer of the thick, hazy atmosphere is brimming with complex hydrocarbons. Scientists believe that Titan's atmosphere may be a laboratory for studying the organic chemistry that preceded life and provided the building blocks for life on Earth. See article. For related story, see “Organically-certified Titan”.
g Life – Why were rates of extinction so low for many of the major groups of marine life during one of the greatest ice ages of them all, which occurred from about 330 million to 290 million years ago late in the Paleozoic Era. The likely answer: because those aquatic life forms that did survive during this era were singularly equipped to endure severe fluctuations in temperature and sea levels. See article.
g Intelligence – A few simple but important steps that have led to the manufacture of radio telescopes. In human evolution, the development of facilities and fire was critical in the establishment of a metal technology. Adequate resources derived from agriculture were essential for the development of advanced technology. At all stages, the ratio of cost to reward had to be small and the technological development had to follow an appropriate cultural preadaptation. Play would unquestionably have been important in technological innovation. The history of toys has yet to be written, but it may be a key to an understanding of the progressive development of human technology. See article.
g Message – Here’s a nice primer on the seti@home project plus some information about how to download the program.
g Cosmicus – Here's how local scientists propose to power the first human outpost on another world: Launch a rover to the moon and melt its dusty soil into acres of electricity-generating solar panels. A year later, when astronauts arrive, all they have to do is plug into the grid. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat classroom activity, courtesy of NASA: “The Drake Equation”. Students estimate the number of civilizations in the galaxy by first estimating the number of craters on the Moon and then by performing estimates of multiple-variable systems culminating in the use of the Drake Equation.
g Imagining – Book alert: A complaint that I see again and again of science fiction aliens — and I’ve made it myself — is that they look too much like us. Is that complaint valid? Is it so unlikely that extraterrestrials would look similar (not identical) to human beings? If so, then what would beings, intelligent or not so intelligent, who evolved on another world look like? That's what Cliff Pickover explores in “The Science of Aliens”.
g Aftermath –Epicurus, in the fourth century BC, believed that the universe contained other worlds like our own, and since his time there has been considerable debate whether extraterrestrial life exists and might communicate with us. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, an international social movement — Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence — has emerged which advocates an attempt to achieve communication with extraterrestrial intelligence, and many of its most active members have been leading scientists. Modest efforts to detect radio signals from intelligent extraterrestrials already have been made, both under government aegis and privately funded, and the technical means for a more vigorous search have been developed. If a CETI project were successful, linguists would suddenly have one or more utterly alien languages to study, and some consideration of linguistic issues is a necessary preparation for it. See article.

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