Friday, May 06, 2005

Bulls-eye galaxy, Titan update and evolution clash

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 – NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope set its infrared eyes on one of the most famous objects in the sky, Messier 104, also called the Sombrero galaxy. In this striking infrared picture, Spitzer sees an exciting new view of a galaxy that in visible light has been likened to a "sombrero," but here looks more like a "bulls-eye." See article.
g Abodes – It's hard not to speculate about the origins of the narrow, dark features seen in Cassini's new images of Titan's surface. They tantalize the viewer, resembling the dark channels seen elsewhere on Titan, but are just at the limits of resolution of the images — too close to identify their true nature. See article. For related story, see “Saturn's moon Titan is complex 'anti-greenhouse'”.
g Life – The theory of panspermia proposes that life really gets around, jumping from planet to planet — or even from star to star. Life, in fact, might be everywhere. Assuming this is true, how do single-celled bacteria make the journey through the vacuum of space? Easy, they use chunks of rock as space ships, in a process called lithopanspermia. And now, researchers from Princeton and the University of Michigan think that life carrying rocks might have been right there at the beginning of our solar system, keeping their tiny astronauts safe and sound, frozen in stasis until the planets formed and the right conditions let them thaw out, stretch their proteins, and begin a process leading from microbe to mankind. See article.
g Intelligence – Did evolution shape your taste in a mate? Check out this interactive feature at PBS and examine the evidence for yourself. See article.
g Message – Non-professional involvement in SETI science, which is encouraged by the nonprofit SETI League, Inc., increases the opportunity for the perpetration of hoaxes. The SETI League has already been peripherally involved in three separate false claims of ETI contact. Two were simple cases of mistaken identity, easily rectified. But the third was an elaborate hoax perpetrated by an Internet hacker who broke into a closed signal verification e-mail list. Such claims call for a prompt but measured response, so as not to subject the SETI community to charges of complicity in conspiracy or cover-up activities. In this presentation SETI League Executive Director H. Paul Shuch explores the dilemma of encouraging grass-roots participation, while avoiding association with fraudulent and pseudo-scientific claims. See article. Note: This article is from 1999.
g Cosmicus – Before future astronauts can take their monumental first steps onto Mars, engineers, scientists, designers and developers will analyze the mission from every perspective to plan the spacecraft hardware, life support, equipment and operational controls needed to sustain future human explorers. And just like the Apollo missions of earlier decades, planetary protection will be an important part of the preparations. According to the Outer Space Treaty, protecting the planets is essential; the treaty requires that space exploration be done in a way that avoids harmful cross contamination of planetary bodies. For future human missions, this means that space hardware and activities must not adversely affect Mars during exploration or expose Earth to biohazards when astronauts return. Even before long-duration, round trip missions are designed, it will be important to know whether and how human exploration can be accomplished in the face of current international planetary protection requirements. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Learning – Hoping to avoid a bitter public showdown, defenders of the theory of evolution boycotted the first of four days of hearings Thursday over the science curriculum in Kansas, where members of the state Board of Education critical of the standard theory are considering changes to give more weight to creationist ideas. Mainstream science organizations spurned invitations to participate, dismissing the hearings in Topeka as an effort “to attack and undermine science,” in the view of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal Science. See article.
g Imagining – The issue of the nature of consciousness has been a recurrent theme in science fiction since the beginning of the genre — whether exploring the possibilities of conscious, self-aware machines, the question of whether or not aliens would have the same experience of consciousness as humans or the feasibility of downloading human consciousness into machines or other organisms or expanding it onto other levels of existence. By incorporating fictional technology, which can make just about anything possible, science fiction can provide the vehicle for interesting philosophical thought experiments - hopefully combined with entertainment. See article.
g Aftermath – While no one can guarantee SETI’s success (the discovery of an alien civilization), that may not matter. At its deeper levels, SETI stimulates and influences our thoughts and transforms our society. See article.

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