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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