Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Liquid water once on Mars, Australian megafauna and most Americans believe alien life is possible

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 – When it comes to mysterious X-rays from Saturn, the ringed planet may act as a mirror, reflecting explosive activity from the Sun, according to scientists using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. See article.
g Abodes – In their explorations of Mars, both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers found evidence that liquid water was once on the planet's surface. Joy Crisp, project scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, discussed the rovers' long journey and their surprising discoveries at a public lecture on May 19. See article. For related story, see “The Bluster on Mars” here.
g Life – Analyses of ancient fossils suggest that early Australian Aborigines did not wipe out the continent's megafauna in a frenzied hunting rampage. New research conducted by Australian and British scientists reveals that in fact humans and megafauna, such as gigantic three-ton wombat-like creatures, a ferocious marsupial "lion" and the world's all-time biggest lizard, may have co-existed for around 15,000 years. See article.
g Intelligence – In an age of e-mails, databases and online catalogues, two heads may no longer be better than one, according to new ESRC-sponsored research into the effects of information overload. See article.
g Message – The spectral approach is a universal tool of both astronomical observations and SETI. Furthermore, it has a clear physical meaning – a spectrometer finds the energy distribution of photons, in human sensing it is color and pitch. Under the hypothesis on identity of physical laws in our part of universe, it may be proposed that spectrometry also are using by those aliens, who know radio and lead theirs own SETI, too. See article.
g Cosmicus – NASA's Mercury-bound MESSENGER spacecraft - less than three months from an Earth flyby that will slingshot it toward the inner solar system - successfully tested its main camera by snapping distant approach shots of Earth and the Moon. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a wonderful Web site for kids: “Mysteries of Space and Time”. By the time a student finishes navigating this site, space should no longer be a mystery. Using clever graphics and offering games and other interactive features, this resource thoroughly covers black holes, the planets, and many anomalies of space. The lab section will be particularly helpful to astronomy students.
g Imagining – Scientists at the SETI Institute have long considered what life might be like on other worlds. You can join in this quest through a game-like science lesson, "Inventing Life Forms." It’s suitable for inventors of all ages. Using one of a pair of dice, you work through the selection of characteristics for your life form. Then, you apply this data and your imagination to invent a life form and develop a world where your creature could live. Download the instructions for "Inventing Life Forms" from the SETI Institute website. It’s the PDF lesson featured with our teaching guide, "How Might Life Evolve on Other Worlds?"
g Aftermath – While most depictions of extraterrestrials are confined to science fiction, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that some form of alien life exists somewhere in the universe, according to a new survey. See article.

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Monday, May 30, 2005

Bringing rocks to Earth, Eel City and advocating an immediate response

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 – Observations by two of the world's largest telescopes provide strong evidence that a peculiar type of exploding star may be the origin of elusive gamma-ray bursts that have puzzled scientists for more than 30 years. See article.
g Abodes – How important would it be to have a Martian sample to pass around to the worlds' best laboratories, much the way that researchers share meteors and moon rocks today? According to Dr. Michael Carr, the stepwise goal of returning an interesting rock from Mars will hinge on mobility and robotics first. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Life – An international team of scientists has discovered an active underwater volcano near the Samoan Island chain about 2,400 miles southwest of Hawaii. Researchers explored the unique biological community surrounding the eruption site, and were amazed to find an “Eel City,” a community of hundreds of eels. Much of the volcano is covered with yellow “fluff,” microbial aggregations that are produced by microscopic life feeding on chemical energy from the volcano's hydrothermal system. See article.
g Intelligence – Johns Hopkins researchers have identified the proteins that allow specific brain cells to "change channels," a rare ability that tweaks what can come into the cell. See article.
g Message – After its long voyage from Earth across the vast stretches of interstellar space, the space ship finally lands on a planet with an environment compatible with human life. The human space voyagers descend from their ship and encounter a race of intelligent beings native to the planet. Communication is soon established between the two groups, human and alien, of intelligent beings. So might begin a story in the contemporary science fiction genre. Such stories might not seem to have much to do with the question of the nature of language, but there is one aspect of the story that merits our attention, namely, the fact that communication is established. That in itself is remarkable. In real life humans have never succeeded in establishing communication with any other species, at least not in establishing communication in the same way as they do with alien beings in many science fiction stories. In such stories it is often possible to communicate with the aliens as effectively as with a human group who speak another language. Are we to say, then, that these alien beings have language? See article.
g Cosmicus – Earlier this month, Space.com examined the top 10 imaginations at work in a swiftly changing space industry. They are the entrepreneurs, policy makers, and visionaries helping to push innovation and technology to new heights, as well as the scientists who remind us of the hopes, dreams and ambitions that the cosmos could fulfill. See article.
g Learning – As the Millennium Force climbed to the peak of its first hill, 20 students took a deep breath and braced themselves for a high-speed plunge toward the ground. The ride began its descent, and they rose unwillingly from their seats only to be caught by the lap bars just in time. The Millennium Force is a 310-foot-tall roller coaster at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. And the sensation the students felt as the coaster plummeted down its famous first hill was similar to what astronauts feel as the Space Shuttle orbits the Earth. See article.
g Imagining – There are no glowing fingers or Reese’s Pieces in National Geographic’s alien-filled special ‘Extraterrestrial,’ but the message is clear: Earth is not that special when it comes to developing life. National Geographic’s ‘Extraterrestrial’ will appear on the National Geographic Channel today from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. CT. See article.
g Aftermath – Donald E. Tarter, a consultant in space policy and technology assessment, makes a persuasive case for developing the protocols and technology to reply to an extraterrestrial signal before news of the discovery is made public, in his article, “Advocating an Immediate Response”. Delay could be costly as technologically advanced fringe groups or ambitious nations could attempt to score a propaganda victory by being the first to reply, creating a mixed and perhaps embarrassing first message. This could be avoided by settling on a quick and simple message to let the extraterrestrial source know that we had received their message. Note: This report is from 1996.

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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Titan’s bright spot, listening to the cosmos’ murmurings and “Extraterrestrial” preview

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 – People of every culture have been fascinated by the dark "spots" on the Moon, which seem to compose the figure of a rabbit, frogs or the face of a clown. With the Apollo missions, scientists found that these features are actually huge impact basins that were flooded with now-solidified lava. One surprise was that these basins formed relatively late in the history of the early solar system — approximately 700 million years after the formation of the Earth and Moon. See article.
g Abodes – Saturn's moon Titan shows an unusual bright spot that has scientists mystified. The spot, approximately the size and shape of West Virginia, is just southeast of the bright region called Xanadu and is visible to multiple instruments on the Cassini spacecraft. See article.
g Life – Scientists from Cardiff University believe that comets striking the Earth could be responsible for transporting bacteria into space, potentially seeding the galaxy with life. When a comet hits the Earth, the "splash back" throws material back into space containing organisms; many would die from heat and radiation, but there's good evidence that many would survive. As the Earth would leave a trail of bacteria behind it as it followed the Sun around the Milky Way — a journey that takes 240 million years. These bacteria could infect any number of worlds, and inevitably spread life across the galaxy. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Intelligence – A new study backs the obvious notion that a song can evoke strong memories. It also reveals that you don't even have to hear a song for the past to come flooding back. In fact, most people have an amazing ability to effectively hear songs that aren't even being played. See article.
g Message – If ET is out there, trying to get in touch with us, his message may well be received first in a quiet rural setting 30 miles northwest of Boston. There, atop a hill overlooking a snow-covered apple orchard and the frozen remnants of a pumpkin patch, a dish-shaped antenna, 84 feet across, faces skyward, attuned to the murmurings of the cosmos. See article. Note: This article is from 1996.
g Cosmicus – Are we there yet? Everyone has faced this exasperating question from impatient companions on a long road trip. Imagine if the trip lasted six months. One way. It takes conventional rockets about six months just to get to Mars. Could a technology send astronauts racing to Mars up to six times faster? See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat set of classroom activities courtesy of NASA: “Go For EVA!” Students learn about the vacuum of space, spacesuits and spacewalks. It includes a downloadable video.
g Imagining – When moviegoers first visited other worlds in the 1977 science fiction phenomenon Star Wars, the eye-popping creatures were the cinematic realization of director George Lucas' imagination. Today, hot on the heels of the highly anticipated premiere of the sixth and final Star Wars movie, the National Geographic Channel presents an array of new and bizarre planetary creatures — but these are scientifically based visions of life as predicted by some of the world's leading scientists. Extraterrestrial," premiering Monday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. CT, is a groundbreaking new show that creates two worlds that scientists believe could exist in our own Milky Way galaxy, putting evolution into motion to investigate what life forms could survive there. Utilizing a combination of computer generated imaging and 3-D effects, "Extraterrestrial" takes viewers on a dazzling galactic journey to come face-to-face with these fantastic alien life forms. See article.
g Aftermath – Looking for some interesting reading on “first contact”? Try the science fiction anthology “First Contact,” edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff. The book came out in 1997. Here’s a review (though it’s less than flattering).

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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Where laws of physics don’t quite apply, Titan’s youthful surface and National Geographic’s “Extraterrestrial”

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 – What if the speed of light is a constant only most of the time? What if gravity sometimes pushed instead of pulled? Scientists are increasingly asking what would seem like far-out questions regarding the laws and rules of physics after discovering conditions and materials where the rules don't quite apply. Take the Doppler effect. See article.
g Abodes – How old is Titan's surface? For years, Saturn's moon Titan was thought to have mastered the cosmetic surgery of the cosmos, with barely a mark or wrinkle to betray its true age. Close-up views provided by Cassini instruments show that Titan is nearly as flawless as it seems from a distance, with only two impact craters found so far. A world with a more youthful surface may be more likely to harbor life. See article.
g Life – Flowers have flourished and evolved their beauty partly because we're so emotionally attached to them, scientists say. See article.
g Intelligence – It's true — many of you don't go a day without dishing out several doses of sarcasm. But some brain-damaged people can't comprehend sarcasm, and Israeli researchers think it's because a specific brain region has gone dark. See article.
g Message – Here’s a good overview of the Drake Equation — though the rest of the Web site itself is a bit suspect.
g Cosmicus – There are already lessons learned that if not heeded might hold back the sky-high hopes of space tourism operators. See article. For related story, see “Space Tourism: An 'Adventure Sport' In the Making”.
g Learning – Here’s a neat classroom activity, courtesy of NASA: Moon Quest. In these lesson plans, students explore Moon legends and data by forming expert teams and sharing knowledge.
g Imagining – ET is coming to your living room in “Extraterrestrial,” and no one is being abducted. Over the past several months, a top-notch group of American and British scientists teamed up with Blue Wave Productions, Ltd. (for the National Geographic) to imagine what ET is like on other worlds. It’s all based upon our scientific understanding of life, stars and planetary systems. When filmed, Dr. Michael Meyer was NASA’s astrobiology program scientist, and now serves as NASA Headquarters Mars Program Scientist; Dr. Seth Shostak is a senior astronomer here at the SETI Institute; Dr. Chris McKay is a leading Mars researcher at NASA Ames Research Center, Dr. Laurance Doyle conducts research on animal communication, and planetary systems around binary stars at SETI Institute and is the lead scientists at PlanetQuest, Inc. a new non-profit that will engage the public in finding extrasolar planets. Dr. Simon Conway Morris is a world-leader in evolutionary biology at Cambridge University in England….and the list goes on. These are serious and accomplished scientists--legitimate guys applying everything they know about stars, planetary systems, planetary evolution, and most especially, the evolution of life, to speculate on what life might be like on other worlds. See article.
g Aftermath – Should we really expect extraterrestrials to be sympathetic to our pleas to be altruistic because of the symbolic kinship we might share with them? See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

Microlensing, resilient Earth and solar sail launch

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, amateur and professional astronomers have teamed up to discover a new planet circling a distant star. The planet was detected by looking for the effect of its gravitational field on light from a more distant star, a technique known as microlensing. See article.
g Abodes – Destroying the Earth is harder than you may have been led to believe. The Earth was built to last. It is 4.55 billion years old and taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you've had hot dinners. See article.
g Life – Neurobiologists have discovered a specialized night-vision brain area in night-migratory songbirds. They believe the area might enable the birds to navigate by the stars, and to visually detect the earth's magnetic field through photoreceptor molecules, whose light-sensitivity is modulated by the field. See article.
g Intelligence – A mere 70 individuals likely founded the Native American and Eskimo populations in North America, according to a new study. See article.
g Message – If we are to learn about distant life, it must make itself perceptible. As far as we can see, only life that has followed our own evolution to the extent of being able to send some mark of its presence across space can be found. This must mean that intelligence develops naturally out of evolving life, that it can make signals capable of traversing space, and that, for some period of time at least, it wants to make its presence known (or at least does not conceal it!). If these conditions exist anywhere, we might hope to detect creatures far older and more capable than ourselves. Exploration would then cross a new frontier; the frontier of an intelligence biologically wholly unrelated to our own. See article
g Cosmicus – A wait in excess of four years is almost over for scientists and engineers eagerly awaiting launch of the first test flight of a revolutionary solar sail. The spacecraft has been shipped from its factory to a port in far northern Russia to undergo final preparations for its submarine launch next month. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat Web site: “Astronomy for Kids”. It contains color skymaps, planets, stars, puzzles and links.
g Imagining – How did humanity come to believe that intelligent life exists in other solar systems? See article.
g Aftermath – It was not suggested outside of science fiction—and there only after the 1890s—that extraterrestrials might come to Earth, except for a few believers in interplanetary spirit travel by mortals (an idea now well established among occultists). Among these was the well-known Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck, who, in what was perhaps the earliest conception of ETs as “gods from outer space,” reasoned that since no beings from other worlds have used their advanced science to abolish suffering on Earth, “Is there not reason to fear that we are for ever alone in the universe, and that no other world has ever been more intelligent or better than our own?” But this, the first serious “Where are they?” argument, was not known to the general public and in any case would not have carried weight, since it depended on the concept of disembodied spirits. Physical contact between worlds was not thought possible outside of fiction. See article.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Planet-forming zones, transit messages and Voyager 1 enters the final frontier

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 – The most detailed measurements to date of the dusty disks around young stars confirm a new theory that the region where rocky planets such as Earth form is much farther away from the star than originally thought. These first definitive measurements of planet-forming zones offer important clues to the initial conditions that give birth to planets. See article.
g Abodes – For future Martian astronauts, finding a plentiful water supply may be as simple as grabbing an ice pick and getting to work. California Institute of Technology planetary scientists studying new satellite imagery think that the Martian polar ice caps are made almost entirely of water ice-with just a smattering of frozen carbon dioxide, or "dry ice," at the surface. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Life – Would you know extraterrestrial life if you found it? U.S. scientists are working on a chemical guidebook to create a definitive method to determine whether extraterrestrial rocks have ever harbored life. See article.
g Intelligence – Monkeys that learn to use their brain signals to control a robotic arm are not just learning to manipulate an external device, Duke University Medical Center neurobiologists have found. Rather, their brain structures are adapting to treat the arm as if it were their own appendage. See article.
g Message – Should we be looking for extraterrestrial civilizations, rather than just listening for them, as we do in the SETI project? That is the suggestion of a French astronomer, Luc Arnold, in his paper “Transit Lightcurve Signatures of Artificial Objects.” He believes that the transit of large artificial objects in front of a sun could be a used for the emission of attention-getting signals. See article.
g Cosmicus – NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered the solar system's final frontier. It is entering a vast, turbulent expanse, where the sun's influence ends and the solar wind crashes into the thin gas between stars. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat Web site from NASA: A curriculum framework for comparing Earth to other planets with regard to life. See article.
g Imagining – Book alert: Here’s a neat book, for children 9 and up, which examines “What will they look like?” “Extraterrestrials: A Field Guide for Earthlings”, by Terence Dickinson and Adolf Schaller, is a wonderfully illustrated book for "earthlings" who want to explore beyond the cardboard aliens of television science fiction to find out what science says about our cosmic cousins from other planet — if they exist.
g Aftermath – When an alien lands on the White House lawn, who should greet him (her? it?): Someone from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or someone from the Fish and Wildlife Commission? What rights would an extraterrestrial have? See article. Note: This article is from 1977, but the issue has been thought about very little.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Star-bullying planet, changing tree of life and Falcon 1 debut

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 – In a reversal of roles, a planet has gravitationally bullied its star to rotate in step with the planet's orbit. The star's behavior is similar to that of our Moon, which turns just fast enough to keep one face always pointing at the Earth. See article.
g Abodes – More than half of Europe's plant species will be threatened or classified as vulnerable by 2080 as a consequence of global warming, a new study says. See article.
g Life – Peter Ward, speaking at a NASA Director's Seminar, presented some ideas for changing the tree of life. This restructuring would not only embrace things like viruses, which are banished from the current tree, but would allow us to put into context some even odder misfits, such as cloned sheep and alien life on other worlds. See article.
g Intelligence – University of Minnesota researchers have demonstrated how estrogen affects learning and memory. They found that estrogen can activate particular glutamate receptors within the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for many aspects of learning and memory. Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, allowing for fast communication between neurons. By examining hippocampal neurons from rats, researchers also observed that estrogen only activated the processes related to learning and memory in the brains of female rats and not males. While it has been well documented that estrogen influences other behaviors beyond reproduction, including learning and memory, the mechanism has remained elusive. The findings of this research are in this week's Journal of Neuroscience. See article.
g Message – Here’s a good primer to the Drake Equation, which this blog’s format is based on: article.
g Cosmicus – The long-awaited and long-delayed debut of the privately built Falcon 1 rocket has a launch date in sight. See article.
g Learning – Although exobiology is of widespread interest to high school science students, it is not generally dealt with comprehensively in most textbooks. In addition, teachers often have inadequate resources available to prepare classroom presentations on how life may have begun on Earth and whether these processes might take place elsewhere in the solar system and the universe. Here’s a classroom teaching module suitable for use in both general and advanced high school biology courses.
g Imagining – Coming to more recent times, modern literature, through the genre of science fiction, abounds in speculation on life in the universe. Incorporating known science into its fabric, science fiction, by invoking alien worlds and alien beings, attempts to extrapolate to unknown science by defamiliarizing the conventional assumptions we make about our environment and ourselves. It tries to make us see the consequences of where our science is leading us, to speculate on the destiny of mankind. Darwin’s theory of evolution, Einstein’s theory of relativity and the second law of thermodynamics provide fertile ground on which to allow the seeds of imagination to grow. See article.
g Aftermath – The discovery that alien life exists would mean that we are not the center of the universe. While most religions now recognize that the Earth is just a lump of rock, they still believe that we human beings are the most important thing in creation, that we occupy a special place in God's plan. The existence of aliens would seem to make this implausible especially if they are more advanced than we are (on all levels, intellectually, spiritually) This would mean that God has acted in the development of the aliens in a way he did not act in ours, which in turn would mean that we do not occupy the paramount role in God's creation, which as I said is a fundamental idea in religions. See article.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

New view of Titan, long-lost cousins found and alien languages

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 – Saturn's icy moon Enceladus hovers above Saturn's exquisite rings in a new color photo from Cassini. The rings, made of nearly pure water ice, have also become somewhat contaminated by meteoritic dust during their history, which may span several hundred million years. See articles.
g Abodes – The European Space Agency's Huygens probe descended onto the surface of Saturn's giant moon Titan in January. Scientists have now generated new views from the descent imager to produce the first enhanced mosaic pictures. See articles.
g Life – The highland mangabey could elude scientists for only so long. This secretive monkey was recently found in the trees of Tanzania, becoming the first new species of monkey discovered in Africa in over 20 years. See article. For related story, see “Long-haired, long-lost cousins” at this site.
g Intelligence – The visual cortex of the adult primate brain displays less flexibility in response to retinal injury than previously thought, according to a new study published in the May 19 issue of the journal Nature. This may have implications for other regions of the brain, and the approach the investigators used may be a key to developing successful neurological interventions for stroke patients in the future. See article.
g Message – Since there is a general agreement that the laws of nature are the same everywhere in our universe, it follows that mathematics must be universal and therefore it must be the same for every intelligent being in the universe. So, a language for SETI communication based on mathematics can be constructed. But the fact that mathematics has turned out to be so strictly entangled with material reality also establishes very sharp limitations to its efficacy for our purposes and the need of an integration with (at least) a pictorial language. See article.
g Cosmicus – Thinking of a muffin and cup of joe on your way to Saturn? Nutraffin, a spicy bite-sized muffin made from carrots, soymilk, peanut and wheat flour, is perfect for space travel. A team of Oklahoma State University students designed the product to win a contest at the NASA Food Technology Commercial Space Center at Iowa State University. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat classroom activity: Investigate the heat absorption and transfer properties of various soils to make an inference about Martian soil. The activity is for grades 4-8. See lesson.
g Imagining – What has science fiction television shows told us about how human conceptions of alien language? See article.
g Aftermath – Reactions to the announcement that scientists had found evidence for primitive life in a meteorite from Mars have been intense. Some concerned the scientific evidence, some the implications of extraterrestrial life, especially if intelligent. Underlying these reactions are assumptions, or beliefs, which often have a religious grounding. The two divergent beliefs, for and against the plurality of life in the universe, are examined historically and through religious traditions, particularly the Judeo-Christian. This examination guides the formulation of the right relation between science and religion as one that respects the autonomy of each discipline, yet allows for each to be open to the discoveries of the other. Based on this relationship, perspectives from scientific exploration are developed that can help individuals to respect and cope with the new phenomena that science brings, whether these imply that we might be alone in the universe or co-creatures of God with the ancient Martians. See article.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Solar wind’s roots, shuttle’s end certain and Phantom Quest

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 – A Chinese-German team of scientists have identified the magnetic structures in the solar corona where the fast solar wind originates. Using images and Doppler maps from the Solar Ultraviolet Measurements of Emitted Radiation spectrometer and magnetograms delivered by the Michelson Doppler Imager on the space-based Solar and Heliospheric Observatory of ESA and NASA, they observed solar wind flowing from funnel-shaped magnetic fields which are anchored in the lanes of the magnetic network near the surface of the Sun. These observations are presented in the April 22 issue of Science magazine. The research leads to a better understanding of the magnetic nature of the sources of the solar wind, a stream of tenuous and hot plasma (electrically conductive gas) that affects the Earth's space environment. See article.
g Abodes – Oscillations begun by the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake in December 2004 are providing important information about the composition of the Earth as well as the size and duration of the earthquake. See article.
g Life – Humans and other animals may appear to be symmetrical on the outside, but symmetry is only skin deep. Many body organs, such as the stomach, the heart and the liver, are tipped to the right or left side. So how does the developing embryo distinguish left from right? Salk scientists have now discovered that the foundations for the basic left-right body plan are laid by a microscopic “pump” on the outer surface of the embryo's underside that wafts chemical messengers over to the left side of the body. See article.
g Intelligence – Chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor, and even today 99 percent of the two species' DNA is identical. But since the paths of man and chimp diverged 5 million years ago, that 1 percent of genetic difference appears to have changed humans in an unexpected way: It could have made people more prone to cancer. See article.
g Message – SETI is a manifestation of man's drive to explore. This drive is one of the oldest and most fundamental aspects of our nature; the very origin of the hominidae as a distinct biological entity is owed, at least in part, to the boldness of our venturesome simian ancestors who abandoned their familiar forest environment to probe the savannah, there to seek fleet-footed prey. Our forebears pushed into almost every corner of the globe. They explored by climbing hills, by walking through forests, and even by crossing large bodies of water. Sometimes they may have had in mind some material purpose, but certainly they sometimes went where they did for no other purpose than to see what was there. Modern man still explores, but the arena for his exploration is now the planets and the stars beyond. But we are not limited to physical exploration. We can use the fruits of our intelligence to conduct exploration from a distance. Though some day we may wish to build space ships to travel there, to probe the stars now we need only telescopes. Yet the excitement and exhilaration that comes with this kind of exploration, as larger telescopes and more sensitive and sophisticated data acquisition techniques lead to discovery after discovery, is akin to that the Viking seamen must have felt. For more, see article.
g Cosmicus – New NASA administrator Mike Griffin, visiting Kennedy Space Center today, made it clear the shuttle would be replaced, and soon. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a great Web site for kids: NASA’s “The Why? Files”. It features Problem-Based Learning and targets students in grades 3-5. Problem-solving skills are put to the test as young detectives search for solutions to real-world problems. The interactive site builds content knowledge in science, mathematics, and technology through its online problem scenario that highlights NASA research, missions and experts.
g Imagining – Particularly in short stories, various first contact scenarios have been explored where it is difficult ever to recognize intelligence. These include one-of-a-kind beings that have nothing to communicate with, as well as beings with inner intellectual activity but no effect on the outside world. When there are extraterrestrials substantially more advanced than humans few efforts have been made to describe their motives and purposes directly — and usually what is emphasized is just their effects on humans. See article.
g Aftermath – If, as “The X-Files'” Fox Mulder might say, "The truth is out there," then the researchers running the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program are likely to be the first ones to find it. On the other hand, there are numerous people who believe they've already been in contact with aliens. National Geographic's video ”Phantom Quest: The Search for Extraterrestrials” studies the claims of both groups, ultimately seeking to reveal precisely what an encounter with beings from another planet could mean for humanity. See article.

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

General Relativity breakdown, Titan vs. Earth and the “Jules Verne”

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 – Cosmologists from Princeton University have a new method to understand why the expansion of the universe is speeding up. The proposed technique will be able to determine if the cosmic acceleration is due to a yet unknown form of "dark energy" in the universe or if it is a signature of a breakdown of Einstein's theory of General Relativity at very large scales of the universe. See article.
g Abodes – Observations of Titan's atmosphere offer a unique look at how Saturn's giant moon compares to Earth. Methane, the main component in natural gas, plays a key role in the makeup of atmospheric conditions on Titan. See article.
g Life – What is the fastest way to locate a randomly hidden object? Animals searching for food may instinctively be following the best strategy. See article.
g Intelligence – When you need to remember specific details, try thinking like a child. A new study pitted college-aged adults against 5- to 11 year-old kids in a memory contest. The younger contestants won by paying better attention to the details. Adults, it seems, get lazy. See article.
g Message – Current searches for extraterrestrial life focus on detecting electromagnetic waves, mainly via radio. Here’s a good primer to electromagnetic radiation.
g Cosmicus – In 2006, with the launch of Jules Verne, the Automated Transfer Vehicle will become the new European powerful automatic re-supply spaceship able to bring an indispensable payload to the International Space Station and its permanent crew. This first ATV will carry a mix of supplies depending on the Station's needs and its own payload capacity. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat Web site for science lovers: “Extremophiles: Can We Live Without Them?” Just 50 years ago tiny microorganisms were found living in environments that would kill all other microorganisms. The site provides an introduction to extremophiles and their unique qualities.
g Imagining – Book alert: Of course, quality science fiction is really less about aliens than the human condition. That’s why you ought to scour some used bookstores for this rare edition: “Star Trek on the Brain: Alien Minds, Human Minds,” by Robert Sekuler and Randolph Blake. An educational and entertaining nonfiction work that uses Star Trek to explain the workings of the human mind, the authors (both psychology professors) have put together an excellent and highly readable neurology primer. Their two-pronged task is to give a Star Trek example and then link it to contemporary science of the nervous system. Do you want to better understand emotions, their cultural implications and universal expressions? Then this is the book. See reviews.
g Aftermath – "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" isn’t really about where to book a cheap, but clean, hotel in the Perseus Arm, or how to avoid dicey neighborhoods like the galactic center, where you risk being fricasseed by radiation or dismembered by a massive black hole. No, this movie is about coming to grips with the immensity of space, and making it psychologically accessible. See article.

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Saturday, May 21, 2005

Mars’ core, cold-loving organisms and Project BETA

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 – The MOST space telescope has given astronomers new clues about an exotic star, at least ten times more massive than our Sun, spewing gas into space at a rate of more than 100 trillion tons per second. See article.
g Abodes – A new study concludes that the core of Mars is the consistency of the syrupy goop found inside chocolate-covered fruit candy. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Life – At a recent meeting of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, molecular evolutionist Mitch Sogin argued that if we want to learn how to look for life on other worlds in our solar system, we should study cold-loving organisms on Earth. See article.
g Intelligence – Genetic factors appear to influence individual differences in language development among children, at least in part, according to a study by British and American researchers. The study, which also found that environmental influences on children's language development were unique to the individual, not the shared environment, was published in the May/June issue of the journal Child Development. See article.
g Message – A number of searches for extraterrestrial intelligence actually have occurred, are ongoing and are planned. Here’s one of the more famous ones: Project BETA, at Harvard University. See article.
g Cosmicus – As the Spirit and Opportunity rovers continue their extended studies of Mars, NASA's Mars program appears headed for change. The shift will be driven by a variety of factors including technical and budget issues, as well as a "rebalancing" of science objectives. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat Web site for kids: “A Virtual Tour of the Solar System”, sponsored by national Geographic. This site takes you on an impressive 3D or 2D tour of the solar system and gives tons of info and facts.
g Imagining – Among the first and most memorable of “Star Trek” aliens is the salt vampire (photo). Could such a creature exist, though? Forgetting the problem of its facial arrangement (eyes-nose-mouth from top to bottom), which repeats Earth’s evolutionary path for vertebrates, the salt vampire receives a mixed review. Consider its shaggy coat, which appears to be inconsistent with bipedalism in a warm climate; humans likely lost their primate hair because doing so allowed our bodies to cool better in the African savanna — and the salt vampire’s planet is hot, probably orbiting a G-class star that has entered its red giant phase (judging by climate and sky color). Of course, the creature could be a hominid that just come down from the trees, which certainly would be sparse on such a planet. But its intelligence level indicates a much longer path of evolution. Perhaps the planet was in a cold state before the star entered its red giant phase. On another note, the creature’s need for salt is voracious for the chemical is in short supply; that seems at odds with the hot desert climate for halites would form as the sun’s expansion caused the seas to evaporate. Possibly, the creature, being the last of its kind, simply had gone mad, expressing its psychosis through murder — which explains why Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock felt no mercy for it when phasering it to death at episode’s end!
g Aftermath – Though an older Web posting, “After Contact, Then What?” shows how little we’ve thought about this question.

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Friday, May 20, 2005

Stellar companions, Pluto Beach and Martian plant pioneer

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 – More than half of the stars in our galaxy have a stellar companion. And yet, of the 130 or so currently known exoplanets (none of which are Earth-like), only about 20 of them are around so-called binaries. The percentage may grow higher. The current ratio is affected by an observational bias: planet hunters tend to avoid binaries because the star-star interactions can hide the planet signatures. See article.
g Abodes – According to a new computer model designed to understand how the conditions for life might arise in unlikely places, humble Pluto and its surroundings will have warmed to downright pleasant temperatures long after the Earth has been consumed by an expanding, dying Sun. "It's Miami Beach for millions of years, potentially longer," Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, says of Pluto's future. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Life – Young male canaries can be taught to sing songs that sound like video game beeps. But wait, there's more. Once it’s time to woo females with love songs, their repertoire switches to more traditional stylings. The new findings, announced last week, surprised researchers studying the innate singing abilities of male canaries. See article.
g Intelligence – Sometimes knowledge can be a bad thing, especially when it comes to exact remembering of certain things. A new study found adults did better remembering pictures of imaginary animals than they did remembering pictures of real cats. See article.
g Message – Interstellar transmissions via energy-markers (photons) or matter-markers (probes) appear to be energetically indistinguishable alternatives for advanced technical societies. Since only Type II and Type III civilizations realistically can afford beacons or star probe technology, alternative distinguishability criteria suggest the possible superiority of intelligent artifacts for contact and communication missions among extraterrestrial cultures. A balanced, more cost-effective Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence strategy is needed. See article.
g Cosmicus – Take the cold tolerance of bacteria that thrive in arctic ice, add the ultraviolet resistance of tomato plants growing high in the Andes mountains, and combine with an ordinary plant. What do you get? A tough plant "pioneer" that can grow in Martian soil. See article.
g Learning – The first step in imagining what a real alien might look like is to forget you ever watched the "The X-Files." They won't be the sinister grays Fox Mulder pursues, little green men or even jolly old E.T. And most assuredly they won't look like us. See article. Note: This article is from 1999.
g Imagining – A complaint lodged again and again against science fiction aliens is that they look too much like us. Is that complaint valid? Is it so unlikely that extraterrestrials would look at least similar (though not identical) to humans? 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. Though the book is a few years old, it’s still worth reading. There’s a review of it here and an interview with the author here.
g Aftermath – Some of the best discussion of the consequences of alien contact occurs in science fiction. Here’s a novel that ranks among the most important in that dialogue: Arthur C. Clark’s “Songs of a Distant Earth.” Look for it at your library or local used book store.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Exoplanet hide and seek and Titanic quilt

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 – MOST, Canada's first space telescope, has turned up an important clue about the atmosphere and cloud cover of a mysterious planet around another star, by playing a cosmic game of “hide and seek” as that planet moves behind its parent star in its orbit. See article. For related story: “'Tail wagging dog' seen in star-exoplanet system”.
g Abodes – Scientists have turned to image analysis to understand their highly successful landing on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Since January, the team has produced representative pictures of the mysterious river-like patterns. The current interpretation of these lines is that flowing liquid methane cuts them. Some of them may have been produced by precipitation run-off, producing a dense network of narrow channels and features with sharp branching angles. Some others may have been produced by sapping or sub-surface flows, giving shape to short stubby channels that join at 90-degree angles. See article.
g Life – Every school kid marvels at the bizarre plates running down the backbone of the weird-looking Stegosaurus, but paleontologists still don't agree on what they're for. Four researchers now argue that if you cut into them it's obvious they're not useful for combat, defense or even regulating a dinosaur's internal temperature. They're probably just ornaments to allow one stegosaur to recognize another of its own species, says UC Berkeley's Kevin Padian. See article.
g Intelligence – Fossilized human bones found in the Czech Republic have been dated back some 31,000 years, confirming them as the oldest known examples of Homo sapiens ever found in Europe, a study says. See article.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Amateurs look in on stellar nursery, diabetes linked to ice age and public spaceflight by 2007

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 – Using a giant telescope on Mauna Kea Hawaii is a dream for most amateur sky watchers. Recently a Canadian amateur astronomy group took advantage of a rare opportunity and used one of the largest telescopes in the world, the Gemini 8-meter telescope, to look more deeply into the remains of a particular stellar nursery than anyone ever has. See article. For related story, see “Amateurs Get Best Look at Stellar Nursery".
g Abodes – NASA scientists have solved an age-old mystery by finding that Mars' southern polar cap is offset from its geographical south pole because of two different polar climates. See article.
g Life – Some researchers think Northern European people about 13,000 years ago developed what's now known as Type 1 diabetes to keep from freezing during an ice age. See article.
g Intelligence – A simple, elegant method could enable scientists to predict how groups of neurons respond to one another and synchronize their activity, report a group of investigators at Carnegie Mellon University. Their work, in press with "Physical Review Letters," ultimately could help scientists understand how neurons network with one another in learning and disease. See article.
g Message – Here’s an intriguing paper that argues the famous Fermi Paradox is a logical fallacy. See article. Note: This article is from 1984.
g Cosmicus – A Canadian space tourism firm has teamed up with a U.S. businessman to form a new company that aims to launch its first public spaceflight by 2007. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a good Web site that gives an general overview of astrobiology for kids: “Astrocentral”.
g Imagining – Dumb or brainy, fair or hideous, extraterrestrial life forms are often pictured by scientists and writers of science fiction as inhabiting worlds just the right distance from stars — neither too hot nor too cold. Rays of starlight in such temperate zones are seen as warming planetary surfaces and alien races, providing a ready source of energy and, most important, the right amount of heat to keep life-giving water from boiling away or turning into ice. But a quiet revolution is now challenging this view and shaking the foundations of exobiology, the study of the possibility of life elsewhere in the cosmos. See article. Note: This article is from 1997.
g Aftermath – Here’s an intriguing essay that discusses what might happen if we do too little to contact extraterrestrials; as the authors argue, “…skepticism regarding SETI is at best unfounded and at worst can seriously damage the long-term prospects of humanity. If ETIs exist, no matter whether friendly or adversarial (or even beyond such simple distinctions), they are relevant for our future. To neglect this is contraryy to the basic tenets of transhumanism. To appreciate this, it is only sufficient to imagine the consequences of SETI success for any aspect of transhumanist interests, and then to affirm that such a success can only be achieved without trying if they come to us, which would obviously mean that we are hopelessly lagging in the race for galactic colonization.” See article.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Geomagnetic storm, Europa almost ready for life and oxygen generator on the fritz

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 – Forecasters at the NOAA Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colo., observed a geomagnetic storm on Sunday, which they classified as an extreme event, measuring G-5 - the highest level - on the NOAA Space Weather Scales. Possible impacts from such a geomagnetic storm include widespread power system voltage control problems; some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage. Spacecraft operations may experience extensive surface charging; problems with orientation. See article.
g Abodes – A trio of unrelated studies show that while Jupiter's moon Europa should have the ingredients necessary for life, finding any bugs on the icy moon would be difficult because its watery ocean lies beneath an impenetrable, frozen shell that is several miles deep. See article. Note: This article is from 2002.
g Life – At a recent meeting of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, molecular evolutionist Mitch Sogin explained why his research focuses not on plants and animals, but rather on microbial life. See article.
g Intelligence – Man's evolutionary tree is not a single, continuous line along time, as many people think. Scientists have evidence that there were many "dead end" branches, with hominid species, which died out without leaving descendants. It is very difficult to determine our direct evolutionary line, and there are still several missing links, not to mention that sometimes there is discordance among scientists about what constitutes the best guess. See article.
g Message – We probably already have the technology to find evidence of extraterrestrial life forms and to even send out evidence of our own. If we don't have this capability yet, we certainly will have achieved it within 15 years. See article. Note: This article is from 1998.
g Cosmicus – A balky Russian oxygen generator broke down on the International Space Station, but its two-man crew has a reserve air supply that would last about five months, NASA officials said. See article.
g Learning – The Kansas school board's hearings on evolution weren't limited to how the theory should be taught in public schools. The board is considering redefining science itself. Advocates of "intelligent design" are pushing the board to reject a definition limiting science to natural explanations for what's observed in the world. See article.
g Imagining – Here’s a neat Web site that examines the life cycle of the Alien — the extraterrestrial from said movie. It’s a little light on evolutionary speculation and discussing plausibility, but the life cycle is thoroughly described.
g Aftermath – How would humans react the day after ET landed? A nationwide survey by the Roper Organization in 1999 found that the following: “...one out of four Americans think most people would “totally freak out and panic” if such evidence were confirmed. See article.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Planetary construction zones, Titan as early Earth and tiny devices for Martian explorers

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 – The Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered significant amounts of icy organic materials sprinkled throughout several "planetary construction zones," or dusty planet-forming discs, which circle infant stars. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Abodes – Titan's atmospheric winds, temperature and mixing have been revealed by new observations from the Cassini spacecraft. The thick atmosphere of Saturn's giant moon is rich in organic compounds, whose chemistry may be similar to that which occurred on Earth before the emergence of life. See article.
g Life – With humans apparently the only intelligent life in the solar system, we must broaden our search for extraterrestrial intelligence to other stars, perhaps even other galaxies. At such distances, though, we have little hope of detecting actual life with current equipment. Instead, we must ask: How likely is it that life in any form — carbon-based, silicon-based, water-based, ammonia-based, or something we cannot even dream of — exists? The word likely in the last sentence speaks of probabilities. See article.
g Intelligence – Studying the evolution of intelligence in the human line immediately recalls similar studies in our next-of-kin, our cousins, the apes. Without any doubt, they have some form of intelligence, and comparative studies have shed an important light on the understanding of our own intelligence. See article.
g Message – Here’s an intriguing piece: “There is No Fermi Paradox.” The "Fermi Paradox," an argument that extraterrestrial intelligence cannot exist because it has not yet been observed, is a logical fallacy. This "paradox" is a formally invalid inference, both because it requires modal operators lying outside the first-order propositional calculus and because it is unsupported by the observational record. See article. Note: This article is from 1985.
g Cosmicus – Two teams of researchers are hoping their tiny devices will mean big leaps for future Mars-bound humans, allowing them to carry powerful computers and generate life support materials from the planet’s atmosphere. See article.
g Learning – Here’s something fun for the kids: An “Alien Life” word find. It’s based on a Science for Kids article.
g Imagining – How did humanity come to believe that intelligent life might exist in other solar systems? And what have our fictional aliens looked like through the ages? See article.
g Aftermath – The statement that extraterrestrial intelligence exists or doesn’t can have the parallel statement that God exists or doesn’t. Some people say there’s already sufficient evidence of existence for both. If you set aside abductions and miracles, it’s true that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence for either. However, if and when one ever detects evidence of an extraterrestrial intelligence, it will break the symmetry of these two statements and, in fact, that evidence will be inconsistent with the existence of God or at least organized religions. See article.

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Gamma-ray burst heart, plants affecting weather and flying snakes

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 – Reporting in the May 12 issue of Nature, astronomers announced that they have penetrated the heart of the universe's most powerful explosion - a gamma-ray burst. Using the PAIRITEL (Peters Automated Infrared Imaging Telescope) robotic telescope on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, they detected a flash of infrared light accompanying the burst of high-energy radiation that signaled the death of a star 15 times more massive than the Sun. See article.
g Abodes – A changing climate can alter the types and extent of plants in a region, scientists have been telling us. And now the bad news: The altered vegetation can, in turn, can make bad weather worse, a new study suggests. See article.
g Life – You might not think snakes need any more tools in their box of fright tactics. However, some of these slithering reptiles are dramatic flyers. Snakes join birds, insects, bats, squirrels and even ants in the realm of aerial prowess. So just how do they do it? See article.
g Intelligence – One of the most fascinating themes of science is how human intelligence arose in the course of evolution of apes to hominids to modern human. It is fascinating because it gives to us the key to a trove of understanding about ourselves, and how natural selection could produce such a marvel as the human brain and its capacities in such a short time. It is also an explanation about the nature of our uniqueness among the animal kingdom, and why we are so today. See article.
g Message – Researchers in the former USSR were long interested in the detection of radio signals originating from extraterrestrial intelligence. The Soviets named their program CETI, or Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The acronym SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) was adopted by the Workshop and by the Ames Research Center to differentiate our own efforts from those of the Soviet Union and to emphasize the search aspects of the proposed program. The Soviet plans for their CETI efforts have been summarized in "The CETI Program," Sov. Astron., vol. 18, no. 5, March-April 1975, which is available in total here.
g Cosmicus – If you nudge this robot, it steps forward and catches its balance - much like a human. The machine called RABBIT, which resembles a high-tech Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz" minus the arms, was developed by University of Michigan and French scientists over six years. It's the first known robot to walk and balance like a human. See article.
g Learning – “’Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.’ – Carl Sagan.” These are the words on the back of more than 200 T-shirts the SETI Institute donated to Cosmos Education – a grass-roots non-profit dedicated to science and technology education and the role of science and technology in health, the environment and sustainable development. The model is simple – seeking to engage, empower and inspire youth in developing countries through hands-on learning activities and experiments. Students learn about the molecular structure of water by pretending to be oxygen and hydrogen atoms; they learn about how soap works by doing experiments with soap, water and oil; they learn about the HIV virus by constructing a human chain model of DNA. These and our many other activities capture the curiosity of students and get them asking questions about the world in which they live. See article.
g Imagining – Here’s a neat site that draws upon the history of science fiction for examples: “Let’s Build an Extraterrestrial”.
g Aftermath – It's a familiar problem. You've finally managed to contact that alien civilization. Things are going great. You feel like your world will never be the same — that whole new realms of possibilities are opening up before your eyes. Then, inevitably, a hint of strain starts to creep into your relationship. You find that you don't really have all that much in common. Heck, sometimes it feels like you're not even in the same galaxy. It's as if there is this vast gulf between you, making communication almost impossible. You're not even sure you'd understand each other no matter how physically close you become. What do you do? See article.

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Saturday, May 14, 2005

New moon, Japanese SETI and Columbia’s last days

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 – In a spectacular kick-off to its first season of prime ring viewing, which began last month, the Cassini spacecraft has confirmed earlier suspicions of an unseen moon hidden in a gap in Saturn's outer A ring. A new image and movie show the new moon and the waves it raises in the surrounding ring material. See article.
g Abodes – Of the more than 130 planets found around distant stars, a large number have highly elliptical orbits, crazy oblong shapes that have surprised theorists who try to explain the configurations with near collisions or perturbing disks of gas. See article.
g Life – Mark Hebblewhite can look at specific climate statistics from the north Pacific Ocean and tell you how the elk are doing in Banff National Park. The University of Alberta doctoral student is the first researcher to show a correlation between the North Pacific Oscillation and a mammal population. See article.
g Intelligence – Here’s a fascinating paper, “Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer”: The goal of research in evolutionary psychology is to discover and understand the design of the human mind. Evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionary biology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind. It is not an area of study, like vision, reasoning, or social behavior. It is a way of thinking about psychology that can be applied to any topic within it. In this view, the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This way of thinking about the brain, mind, and behavior is changing how scientists approach old topics, and opening up new ones. This chapter is a primer on the concepts and arguments that animate it.
g Message – Two Japanese observatories have started a probe to find signs of extraterrestrial life using radio and optical telescopes, in Japan's first government-backed search for aliens. See article.
g Cosmicus – Must-watch TV: At the same time both touching and heart-wrenching, “Astronaut Diaries” is a one-hour window into the two years of training that prepared the STS-107 astronauts for their flight, based on 150 hours of personal video shot by Columbia astronaut David Brown and his crewmates. Brown was planning to make a personal film about his first spaceflight and recorded video throughout his crew’s training and up to the point when he entered Columbia’s hatch, where onboard cameras took over. The documentary will debut on the Science Channel today at 8 p.m. CT.
g Learning – Today is the SETI Institute’s second annual Science Day. Say thanks to a teacher. See article.
g Imagining – Ever wondered how all those traditional space-opera and epic-fantasy races - the pig-faced warriors, the smug bumheads, and all the rest - came up with their wonderfully clich├ęd alien vocabularies? It's not difficult; once you've mastered these basic rules, you'll be able to produce names and phrases just as stereotypical as theirs. See article.
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. During the last quarter of the 20th century, an international social movement has emerged which advocates an attempt to achieve communication with extraterrestrial intelligence, CETI, and many of its most active members have been leading scientists. Modest efforts to detect radio signals from intelligent extraterrestrials have already 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. Note: This article is from 1994.

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Friday, May 13, 2005

Temperamental stars, Pleistocene Park and the psychology of interstellar communication

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 – Young stars in the Orion Nebula have quite a temper, flashing powerful X-rays every few days. Scientists wonder if such X-ray flares could rough up the calm sea of a proto-planetary disk, and thereby rescue burgeoning planets from certain oblivion. Does a temperamental youth ensure the existence of future planets? See article.
g Abodes – In northern Siberia, scientists are attempting to restore a large area of wetlands and forest to the dry landscape that existed more than 10,000 years ago. They are reintroducing herbivores and predators they think will alter the biology and ecology of the region to its previous state. The effort is designed to solve a longstanding mystery of what happened to the woolly mammoths, and it might also help reduce global warming. See article.
g Life – You might think it's grand to be a well-endowed fish. After all, some female fish prefer mates with larger sex organs, a new study finds. But the guys' prowess has a price. See article.
g Intelligence – One of the fundamental questions of astrobiology is whether intelligence exists on other life-bearing planets. To study intelligence we must use quantifiable measures that are correlated with known characteristics of intelligence (problem solving, memory, etc.), amenable to comparisons across a wide range of organisms, and ideally, applicable to fossil as well as living organisms. The Encephalization Quotient is one such measure. EQ is a number that compares brain and body sizes across different species and tells us how large or small a species’ average brain size is for its average body size. Highly encephalized species have larger brains than expected for their body size and generally tend to be more intelligent. For instance, modern humans have an EQ of about 7. That means our brains are about seven times the size one would expect for an animal of our body size. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Message – Let us assume that civilizations enjoy a long stay on their parent planet once their initial technological teething problems are past. In that case, they are likely to be plentiful in the galaxy. How might we become aware of their existence? See article.
g Cosmicus – Will robots that help astronauts in space be as friendly and likeable as the fictional "R2-D2" android portrayed in the original "Stars Wars" motion picture? NASA scientists say robots will behave more like human beings in the future, even if - like R2-D2 - these machines do not look like people. See article.
g Learning – Girls steer away from careers in math, science and engineering because they view science as a solitary rather than a social occupation, according to a University of Michigan psychologist. See article.
g Imagining – Here’s a neat Web site: The Exorarium. At the Exorarium, visitors get a chance to mix and match the same ingredients that brought about human life, shaping their own unique intelligent life forms. For example, you might start with a hot or cool star, a heavy or light planet, one with lots of water or a desert world, and so on – until a unique ecosystem takes shape before your eyes … a family tree leading to the ultimate outcome, a species of intelligent life.
g Aftermath – If we establish communication with a civilization even as close as 100 light years from Earth, the round-trip time for a message and its reply is 200 years. What will be the psychology of a civilization that can engage in a meaningful conversation with this sort of delay? How is such a conversation to be established? What should the content of such a conversation be? These are the questions which motivate our title: "Minds and Millennia: The Psychology of Interstellar Communication." See article.

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Super flares, the ancient sea and a self-replicating robot

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 – New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory imply that X-ray super-flares torched the young solar system. Such flares likely affected the planet-forming disk around the early Sun, and may have enhanced the survival chances of Earth. See article.
g Abodes – The ancient sea was more like a giant salty lake than a rolling ocean, report scientists from Imperial College London in the May edition of the Journal of the Geological Society. A new computer model that simulates how tides in North West Europe would have behaved 300 million years ago shows a sea with so little movement that it was unlike any on Earth today. See article.
g Life – A geologist from Washington University in St. Louis is developing new techniques to render a more coherent story of how primitive life arose and diverged on Earth - with implications for Mars. See article.
g Intelligence – Simple one-celled life forms reigned supreme on Earth for most of our planet's history. It took time — a great deal of time — for life to emerge from the oceans, to evolve into simple plants, to continue to evolve into complex animals, and to develop intelligence, culture and technology. Have those (or similar) events occurred elsewhere in the universe? See article.
g Message – While advanced civilizations might be tempted to use optical means such as lasers to send information between the stars, there are some good reasons that nearly all the major Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence experiments are looking for radio waves instead. See article.
g Cosmicus – Mimicking reproduction in living organisms, researchers have built a simple self-replicating robot out of automated blocks. What effect will this have on space exploration? See article.
g Learning – Nearly 150 years after Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species,” the theory of evolution is still widely misunderstood by the general public. Evolution isn't a fringe theory, and it's not difficult to understand, yet recent surveys reveal that roughly half of Americans believe that humans were created in their present form 10,000 years ago (Brooks 2001, CBS 2004). The same number rejects the concept that humans developed from earlier species of animals (National Science Board 2000). See article.
g Imagining – Book alert: “Extraterrestrials: A Field Guide for Earthlings,” by Terence Dickinson and Adolf Schaller, is not your sci-fi book on aliens. This book is more like "Audbon Society Guide To Birds" of extraterrestrial biology. Dickinson and Schaller start by discussing our contemporary views of aliens and shows the fallacies behind it. They then explore places where life could be found. Then there is a discussion of biology, rules of life that would apply anywhere in the universe. Then, one by one, Dickinson and Schaller discuss possible inhabited worlds and what life might have evolved there. Everything from gas giants to ocean worlds to ice planets is discussed. Then, inorganic life, like intelligent comets and macronuclear life is discussed. Finally, to sum it up, the possibility of contact is discussed. Throughout the book, a scientific approach is used, but the book is still very easy to read. Anybody interested in the possibility of life on other worlds, and anybody who would like to see what this life might be like, definitely should read this book. See reviews. Note: This book, published in 1994, is intended for middle school readers.
g Aftermath – How will an alien visit influence the world’s religions? Here’s one common man’s view.

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