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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