Thursday, May 12, 2005

Super flares, the ancient sea and a self-replicating robot

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 – New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory imply that X-ray super-flares torched the young solar system. Such flares likely affected the planet-forming disk around the early Sun, and may have enhanced the survival chances of Earth. See article.
g Abodes – The ancient sea was more like a giant salty lake than a rolling ocean, report scientists from Imperial College London in the May edition of the Journal of the Geological Society. A new computer model that simulates how tides in North West Europe would have behaved 300 million years ago shows a sea with so little movement that it was unlike any on Earth today. See article.
g Life – A geologist from Washington University in St. Louis is developing new techniques to render a more coherent story of how primitive life arose and diverged on Earth - with implications for Mars. See article.
g Intelligence – Simple one-celled life forms reigned supreme on Earth for most of our planet's history. It took time — a great deal of time — for life to emerge from the oceans, to evolve into simple plants, to continue to evolve into complex animals, and to develop intelligence, culture and technology. Have those (or similar) events occurred elsewhere in the universe? See article.
g Message – While advanced civilizations might be tempted to use optical means such as lasers to send information between the stars, there are some good reasons that nearly all the major Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence experiments are looking for radio waves instead. See article.
g Cosmicus – Mimicking reproduction in living organisms, researchers have built a simple self-replicating robot out of automated blocks. What effect will this have on space exploration? See article.
g Learning – Nearly 150 years after Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species,” the theory of evolution is still widely misunderstood by the general public. Evolution isn't a fringe theory, and it's not difficult to understand, yet recent surveys reveal that roughly half of Americans believe that humans were created in their present form 10,000 years ago (Brooks 2001, CBS 2004). The same number rejects the concept that humans developed from earlier species of animals (National Science Board 2000). See article.
g Imagining – Book alert: “Extraterrestrials: A Field Guide for Earthlings,” by Terence Dickinson and Adolf Schaller, is not your sci-fi book on aliens. This book is more like "Audbon Society Guide To Birds" of extraterrestrial biology. Dickinson and Schaller start by discussing our contemporary views of aliens and shows the fallacies behind it. They then explore places where life could be found. Then there is a discussion of biology, rules of life that would apply anywhere in the universe. Then, one by one, Dickinson and Schaller discuss possible inhabited worlds and what life might have evolved there. Everything from gas giants to ocean worlds to ice planets is discussed. Then, inorganic life, like intelligent comets and macronuclear life is discussed. Finally, to sum it up, the possibility of contact is discussed. Throughout the book, a scientific approach is used, but the book is still very easy to read. Anybody interested in the possibility of life on other worlds, and anybody who would like to see what this life might be like, definitely should read this book. See reviews. Note: This book, published in 1994, is intended for middle school readers.
g Aftermath – How will an alien visit influence the world’s religions? Here’s one common man’s view.

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