Monday, May 02, 2005

Stereoscopic sun, Earth’s energy out of balance and space elevator

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 – Soon you'll be able to see for the first time ever, in dazzling three dimensions, the Sun. The upcoming Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) mission will help provide the big picture by using two nearly identical spacecraft to image the Sun and track its activity in high definition 3-D. See article.
g Abodes – Using satellites and computer models to study the Earth's oceans, scientists have concluded that more energy is being absorbed from the Sun than is reflected back to space, throwing the Earth's energy "out of balance" and warming the planet. See article.
g Life – What is the shortest lifespan of any animal with a backbone? In a rushed existence, a dwarf fish has been found to complete its cradle-to-grave journey in two short months. See article.
g Intelligence – We may never agree on a universal definition of intelligence because it is an open-ended word, like consciousness. Intelligence and consciousness concern the high end of our mental life, but they are frequently confused with more elementary mental processes, such as ones we would use to recognize a friend or tie a shoelace. Of course, such simple neural mechanisms are probably the foundations from which our abilities to handle logic and metaphor evolved. But how did that occur? That's an evolutionary question and a neurophysiological one as well. Both kinds of answers are needed if we are to understand our own intelligence. They might even help us appreciate how an artificial or an exotic intelligence could evolve. See article.
g Message – In the search for aliens, Earth has a finely tuned ear to the sky — millions of ears, in fact. So far, it's pretty quiet out there. Paul Davies wonders whether we'll ever get the call. See article.
g Cosmicus – Meekk Shelef, a computer whiz, is worried. "We have to overcome the giggle factor," she said with a sigh. Ben Shelef, a mechanical engineer, is worried, too, afraid that skeptics just don't understand the vision behind their endeavor. They see the day when vehicles carrying cargo and humans will climb 62,000 miles high into space on a ribbon of carbon thinner than paper, powered by beams of pure light aimed ever upward from Earth. Fantastic? NASA has $400,000 in prize money riding on a competition to stimulate the innovative concept for sending people, spacecraft and robots directly out to Mars and the other planets of the solar system. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat set of classroom activities, courtesy of the Discovery channel: “Destination Mars.” In these activities, students learn: that while Mars is just a stone’s throw across the solar system, a manned mission there is still just a dream; for such a mission to become a reality, we would need, among other things, a means of transportation that would allow us to move over the surface of the planet; and both the surface and the surrounding space of the planet Mars have characteristics that challenge existing technologies to create such a means of transportation. See article.
g Imagining – Book alert: It's not often one of the world's best known historian turns his hand to writing science fiction. “The Sykaos Papers”, a 1988 novel by E.P. Thompson, stands in a long tradition of science fiction novels that use an alien or a human from an alien culture stranded on Earth as a device for critiquing various aspects of society (Robert Heinlein's “Stranger in a Strange Land” is perhaps the best known example of the genre.). While Thompson does employ many of the standard cliches of science fiction, however, he always seems able to find something new in them. Oi Paz, a scout from the planet Oitar (where things are rather different) crashes and is stuck on Earth. Suffering severe culture shock, he eventually ends up as the subject of a military organized research institute, where he studies the researchers as they study him, in an entertaining anthropological duality.
g Aftermath – The scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence is accelerating its pace and adopting fresh strategies. This increases the likelihood of successful detection in the near future. Humanity's first contact with alien intelligence will trigger extraordinary attention from the media, from government authorities, and from the general public. By improving our readiness for contact, especially for security during the first 30 days, we can avoid the most negative scenarios — and also enhance humanity's benefits from this first contact with an alien intelligence. Six potential problem areas include communicating with the media and the public, communicating with scientific colleagues, government control, an assassin or saboteur, well-meaning officials and lawsuits. See article.

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