Thursday, June 16, 2005

Missing star dust, burning hunk of rock and Devils Hole pupfish

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 University of Minnesota team of astronomers has studied the Crab Nebula, a filamentous remnant of a star that exploded in A.D. 1054 in the constellation Taurus. Using the new Spitzer Space Telescope, which operates at infrared wavelengths, the team found that a crucial type of dust has gone missing. See article.
g Abodes – In the land rush known as extrasolar planet hunting, the most prized real estate is advertised as "Earth-like." On Monday, scientists raced to plant their flag on a burning hunk of rock orbiting a red star. See article.
g Life – Scientists trying to study the endangered Devils Hole pupfish near Death Valley inadvertently nudged the endangered fish closer to extinction. See article.
g Intelligence – Video games, which reveal disconnects between a set of young television addicts and their elders, could bridge a generation gap. While Mortal Combat, Grand Theft Auto, or Halo may be foreign to aging generations, a new study out of Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Toronto suggests that video games like these promote a kind of mental "expertise" that could prove to be useful in the non-virtual world — potentially in rehabilitation and for the elderly. See article.
g Message – In July 2003, an international science team, led by Alexander Zaitsev of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Richard Braastad of Team Encounter, LLC, broadcast scientific and personal messages in “Cosmic Call 2003” to five, sun-like stars. Here’s a brief description of the preparation and implementation of CC-2003. See article.
g Cosmicus – A public meeting was held June 14 in Van Horn, Texas as part of a series of steps to gain a governmental OK for Blue Origin to launch its rockets. Blue Origin is the Seattle-based company bankrolled by Jeff Bezos, founder of, to create and launch passenger-carrying spacecraft. See article.
g Learning – In a spectacular, comprehensive presentation “The Planets” video series draws on consultations with over a thousand leading astronomers, engineers, scientists and astronauts. Featuring seldom-seen NASA archival footage, awe-inspiring imagery from instruments like the Hubble space telescope, and stunning computer graphics and special effects, this unprecedented series explores both the alien beauty of our local space environment and the extraordinary technology that enables us to unlock its secrets. See article.
g Imagining – Science fiction authors produce a lot of very strange critters. In the desperate dash to be different, many go way overboard to invent fantastic, outlandish species unlike anything anyone has ever seen. It’s an admirable expression of their artistic abilities, but there’s an inherent problem: they almost always lose the reader along the way. Sure, it sounds ultra-cool to have a whole herd of 80-foot quasi-limbed orb-stasis beings, but unless you draw me a picture of these things, the reader often has no idea what you’re talking about. However, if you write that your alien has four wings, 10 eyes and looks a little like a kangaroo, the reader is right there with you. Most readers need at least something familiar to draw on for their imagination, or they get lost. See article.
g Aftermath – What should we say to an extraterrestrial? Try the World Wide Web. SETI astronomer Seth Shostak opines at article.

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