Friday, May 13, 2005

Temperamental stars, Pleistocene Park and the psychology of interstellar communication

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 – Young stars in the Orion Nebula have quite a temper, flashing powerful X-rays every few days. Scientists wonder if such X-ray flares could rough up the calm sea of a proto-planetary disk, and thereby rescue burgeoning planets from certain oblivion. Does a temperamental youth ensure the existence of future planets? See article.
g Abodes – In northern Siberia, scientists are attempting to restore a large area of wetlands and forest to the dry landscape that existed more than 10,000 years ago. They are reintroducing herbivores and predators they think will alter the biology and ecology of the region to its previous state. The effort is designed to solve a longstanding mystery of what happened to the woolly mammoths, and it might also help reduce global warming. See article.
g Life – You might think it's grand to be a well-endowed fish. After all, some female fish prefer mates with larger sex organs, a new study finds. But the guys' prowess has a price. See article.
g Intelligence – One of the fundamental questions of astrobiology is whether intelligence exists on other life-bearing planets. To study intelligence we must use quantifiable measures that are correlated with known characteristics of intelligence (problem solving, memory, etc.), amenable to comparisons across a wide range of organisms, and ideally, applicable to fossil as well as living organisms. The Encephalization Quotient is one such measure. EQ is a number that compares brain and body sizes across different species and tells us how large or small a species’ average brain size is for its average body size. Highly encephalized species have larger brains than expected for their body size and generally tend to be more intelligent. For instance, modern humans have an EQ of about 7. That means our brains are about seven times the size one would expect for an animal of our body size. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Message – Let us assume that civilizations enjoy a long stay on their parent planet once their initial technological teething problems are past. In that case, they are likely to be plentiful in the galaxy. How might we become aware of their existence? See article.
g Cosmicus – Will robots that help astronauts in space be as friendly and likeable as the fictional "R2-D2" android portrayed in the original "Stars Wars" motion picture? NASA scientists say robots will behave more like human beings in the future, even if - like R2-D2 - these machines do not look like people. See article.
g Learning – Girls steer away from careers in math, science and engineering because they view science as a solitary rather than a social occupation, according to a University of Michigan psychologist. See article.
g Imagining – Here’s a neat Web site: The Exorarium. At the Exorarium, visitors get a chance to mix and match the same ingredients that brought about human life, shaping their own unique intelligent life forms. For example, you might start with a hot or cool star, a heavy or light planet, one with lots of water or a desert world, and so on – until a unique ecosystem takes shape before your eyes … a family tree leading to the ultimate outcome, a species of intelligent life.
g Aftermath – If we establish communication with a civilization even as close as 100 light years from Earth, the round-trip time for a message and its reply is 200 years. What will be the psychology of a civilization that can engage in a meaningful conversation with this sort of delay? How is such a conversation to be established? What should the content of such a conversation be? These are the questions which motivate our title: "Minds and Millennia: The Psychology of Interstellar Communication." See article.

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