Thursday, May 05, 2005

Universe’s dark side, Project Argus and proposed Crew Exploration Vehicles

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 survey of 13 million galaxies and 200,000 quasars uses Einstein’s theory of gravity to confirm a dark side of the universe. See article.
g Abodes – Scientists from the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory have provided new evidence that ocean circulation changes lagged behind, and were not the cause of, major climate changes at the beginning and end of the last ice age, short intervals known as glacial boundaries. See article.
g Life – Monitoring Chinese leafbeetle attacks on saltcedar trees could become easier now that Agricultural Research Service scientists have synthesized the beneficial insect's chemical sex attractant, or pheromone. See article.
g Intelligence – Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have identified a gene that appears to have played a role in the expansion of the human brain's cerebral cortex — a hallmark of the evolution of humans from other primates. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Message – The SETI League, Inc. launched its Project Argus all-sky survey in April 1996, with the ambitious goal of real-time all-sky coverage. This SETI experiment is unique in that it employs the talents and energies of thousands of dedicated amateur radio astronomers worldwide. In its first four years, Project Argus has grown from five small prototype radio telescopes to one hundred operational stations, with hundreds more under construction. We are still decades away from our projected 5,000 stations able to see in all directions at once. Nevertheless, much has been learned about how to build radio telescopes on the cheap, operate them with the utmost of professionalism, and interpret received data with scientific rigor. See article.
g Cosmicus – The future of human space transportation, not only into Earth orbit, but also back to the Moon and onto Mars, kick-started this week as NASA received contractor proposals for the Crew Exploration Vehicle. See article.
g Learning – Here’s a neat classroom activity, courtesy of NASA: How Much Do You Weigh on Distant Planets? In this activity, students study the effects of gravity on the planets of the solar system.
g Imagining – If live evolved somewhere else (which is unquestionable for all SF fans), very probably it is based on carbon chemistry and molecules similar to those encountered on Earth. The carbon atom is very special as it enables a large variety of strong chemical links, which are needed to sustain complex organisms. Another, and probably unique, possibility is life based on silicone, which chemical properties are to some degree similar to those of carbon. No, I don't mean electronic circuits, but organic molecules based on silicone instead of carbon. Still, alien life chemistry didn't tell us a lot about shape, color or size of aliens. See tutorial.
g Aftermath – While formal principles have been adopted for the eventuality of detecting intelligent life in our galaxy, no such guidelines exist for the discovery of non-intelligent extraterrestrial life within the solar system. Current scientifically based planetary protection policies for solar system exploration address how to undertake exploration, but do not provide clear guidance on what to do if and when life is detected. Considering that Martian life could be detected under several different robotic and human exploration scenarios in the coming decades, it is appropriate to anticipate how detection of non-intelligent, microbial life could impact future exploration missions and activities, especially on Mars. See article.

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