Friday, June 10, 2005

Titan’s smog, his and her rex and “Where are they?”

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 – In 1987, earthbound observers saw a star explode in the nearby galaxy. Astronomers eagerly studied this supernova - the closest seen in the past 300 years - and have continued to examine its remains. Although its blast wave lit up surrounding clouds of gas and dust, the supernova appears to have left no core behind. Astronomers now report that even Hubble's sharp eyes failed to locate the black hole or ultracompact neutron star they believe was created by the star's death. See article.
g Abodes – Saturn's moon Titan is shrouded in a thick smoggy atmosphere. Methane gas breaks down to form the organic smog particles, but it's a mystery where all that methane is coming from. According to a new report in the journal Nature, icy volcanoes on Titan may be a source. See article. For related story, see “Possible volcano discovered on Saturn’s moon Titan”.
g Life – Finally scientists might be able to tell a she rex from a he rex. See article. For related story, see “Dinosaur Bones Show T. Rex Link to Birds”.
g Intelligence – Automated pink bunnies playing the drums. A man made of tires. A burger-selling clown. Almost every advertisement is accompanied by a visual image. And consumers use these images to infer about the product being offered. But are those inferences the right ones? According to an article in the June issue of the Journal of Consumer Research consumers do not always connect the dots. Furthermore, researchers conclude that it may often have to do with how the visual images are presented. See article.
g Message – "Where are they?" Physicist Enrico Fermi famously posed this question when asked about intelligent extraterrestrials. If such beings exist, why have we (presumably) not been contacted or visited? Fermi's Paradox, as it is now known, is more profound than it may appear. Calculations suggest that if our galaxy has even one extraterrestrial civilization with the interest and ability to colonize new star systems, such a civilization could spread far and wide in a period far shorter than the age of the galaxy. See article.
g Cosmicus – NASA has announced that a mission to fly to Jupiter will proceed to a preliminary design phase. The mission is called Juno, and it is the second in NASA's New Frontiers Program. See article.
g Learning – There's a lot that's puzzling about the science textbooks used in American classrooms. A sloppy way with facts, a preference for the politically correct over the scientifically sound, and sheer faddism characterize their content. It's as if their authors had decided above all not to expose students to the intellectual rigor that is the lifeblood of science. See article.
g Imagining – Book alert: "Extraterrestrials, Where Are They?" by Ben Zuckerman and Michael H. Hart (ed.) offers a critical analysis by leading experts in a range of sciences, of the plausibility that other intelligent life forms do exists. Exploration of the solar system, and observations with telescopes that probe deep space, have come up empty-handed in searches for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Many experts in the fields of astronomy, biology, chemistry and physics now argue that the evidence points to the conclusion that technological civilizations are rare. After 10 billion years and among hundreds of billions of stars, we may well possess the most advanced brains in the Milky Way. This second edition elucidates many new aspects of research on extraterrestrial intelligence life, specifically biological considerations of the question.
g Aftermath – Some of the best discussion of the consequences of alien contact occurs in science fiction. Here’s a novel that ranks among the most important in that dialogue: Arthur C. Clark’s “Songs of a Distant Earth.” Look for it at your library or local used book store.

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