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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