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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