Saturday, June 11, 2005

Cassiopeia’s echo, Mar’s aurora and the Astrobiology Roadmap

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 – An echo has been detected around a star whose death was witnessed 325 years ago. The reverberation — emanating out in light, not sound waves — implies that the stellar remnant let out a burst of energy some 50 years ago. The dead star in question is Cassiopeia A, whose explosion or supernova was witnessed by Tycho Brahe in 1572. Situated 10,000 light years away, astronomers believe a dense neutron star is all that is left of the original star. See article.
g Abodes – Mars has an aurora, and it's like none other in the solar system. The European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter detected the unique phenomenon with its ultraviolet instrument. French, U.S. and Russian scientists were reporting the discovery Wednesday. See article.
g Life – The questions posed by astrobiology are deep and enduring, but for the first time, much of historical speculation can now be scientifically tested. A user's guide to good experiments is offered as part of the update to the Astrobiology Roadmap. For “doers,” this roadmap is drivable. See article.
g Intelligence – People whose ancestors came from where dairy herds could be raised safely can digest milk as adults. Most people in extreme climates or where deadly cattle diseases were historically present can't digest milk, finds a Cornell University study in a forthcoming issue of Evolution and Human Behavior. See article.
g Message – Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can join a worldwide search for intelligent life in space. Download Seti@home.
g Cosmicus – As the ever-increasing power of computer chips brings us closer and closer to the limits of silicon technology, many researchers are betting that the future will belong to "spintronics": a nanoscale technology in which information is carried not by the electron's charge, as it is in conventional microchips, but by the electron's intrinsic spin. See article.
g Learning – When Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection 143 years ago, the scientists of the day argued over it fiercely, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt. Today that battle has been won everywhere — except in the public imagination. Embarrassingly, in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy. They lobby for creationist ideas such as "intelligent design" to be taught as alternatives to evolution in science classrooms. As this article goes to press, the Ohio Board of Education is debating whether to mandate such a change. Some antievolutionists, such as Philip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of “Darwin on Trial,” admit that they intend for intelligent-design theory to serve as a "wedge" for reopening science classrooms to discussions of God. See article.
g Imagining – Watch the film "Alien vs. Predator”and you might feel there was little left to lose in seeing "Exorcist: The Beginning". As it happens, both movies, although undeniably bad, are thought provoking. Humans have a longstanding fascination with powerful, malevolent entities, whether extraterrestrial or supernatural, and the existence of such entities, however farfetched in its cinematic presentation, is a fair topic for inquiry and speculation. See article.
g Aftermath – Within the scientific community, the question is no longer whether extraterrestrial life exists, but if ET is smart enough to do long division — and the U.S. and other world governments already have detailed secret plans for first contact. My apologies in advanced for Popular Mechanic’s lurid title, but the reporting is sound; see article. Note: This article is from 2004.

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