Monday, July 25, 2005

Energizer supernova, methane on Mars and portrait of humanity

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 - Scientists have found that a star that exploded in 1979 is as bright today in X-ray light as it was when it was discovered years ago, a surprise finding because such objects usually fade significantly after only a few months. See article.
g Abodes - In a feat of astronomical and terrestrial alignment, a group of scientists from MIT and Williams College recently succeeded in observing distant Pluto's tiny moon, Charon, hide a star. Such an event had been seen only once before, by a single telescope 25 years ago, and then not nearly as well. The MIT-Williams consortium spotted it with four telescopes in Chile on the night of July 10-11. See article.
g Life - On Earth, methane is mostly produced by life. The recent detection of methane in the Martian atmosphere therefore has given rise to much speculation about the possibility for life on the Red Planet. Part one of this four-part series about methane and Mars provides an overview of the recent findings. See article.
g Intelligence - Is a car masculine or feminine? It's not a trick question. In Spanish, car is el automobile, making it masculine. But in English, a car is a car and what's more important is its make. But, a study published in the September issue of the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that linguistic gender plays a role as a categorization tool for brand evaluation and recall in both English and Spanish. See article.
g Message - A “portrait of humanity” recently was taken by Simon Bell, a photographer from Toronto. It is half of a stereo pair, two images that when properly focused together, reveal the scene’s third dimension. The photograph was envisioned as part of a message for the Cassini mission to Saturn and its moon Titan, launched in late 1997. It would have been an artifact in the tradition of the Voyager Record and the “Visions of Mars” CD ROM. Unlike the Voyager Record it was not intended to leave the solar system to be found by the crew of an advanced starship. Unlike Visions it was not for humans in the next few centuries. Its fate would have been to remain on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan, waiting for eons of time against the slim chance that life might someday appear on that strange world, or that some other space traveler might visit Titan and find it. The image, inscribed on a diamond wafer about the size of a coin, was intended to show an intelligent alien on Titan viewer a little about our bodies, about our relationships with each other, and about our planet. See article.
g Cosmicus - Delays for safety improvements have repeatedly thwarted the shuttle's comeback from the Columbia catastrophe. But aging components could eventually add their own setbacks and risks to flying as the shuttles near retirement in just five years, according to authorities on space travel. See article.
g Learning - The question of whether we are alone in our universe has fascinated humanity since the earliest of times. Stories of mysterious beings from the sky permeate the mythology of many cultures and make a regular appearance in fiction, while the number of UFO sightings continues to rise. Yet aside from the myths and sensationalism, the study of astrobiology — the search for life elsewhere in the universe -has become widely accepted as a valid and important area of research. Astrobiology encompasses cosmology, astrophysics, planetary science, paleontology, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, genetics and anthropology. Monica Grady, head of petrology and meteoritics in the department of mineralogy at the Natural History Museum, presents a comprehensive introduction to astrobiology online course.
g Imagining - A complaint lodged again and again against science fiction aliens is that they look too much like us. Is that complaint valid? Is it so unlikely that extraterrestrials would look at least similar (though not identical) to humans? If so, then what would beings, intelligent or not so intelligent, who evolved on another world look like? That's what Cliff Pickover explores in The Science of Aliens. Though the book is a few years old, it’s still worth reading. Here’s a review of it and an interview with the author.
g Aftermath - Reactions to the announcement that scientists had found evidence for primitive life in a meteorite from Mars have been intense. Some concerned the scientific evidence, some the implications of extraterrestrial life, especially if intelligent. Underlying these reactions are assumptions, or beliefs, which often have a religious grounding. The two divergent beliefs, for and against the plurality of life in the universe, are examined historically and through religious traditions, particularly the Judeo-Christian. This examination guides the formulation of the right relation between science and religion as one that respects the autonomy of each discipline, yet allows for each to be open to the discoveries of the other. Based on this relationship, perspectives from scientific exploration are developed that can help individuals to respect and cope with the new phenomena that science brings, whether these imply that we might be alone in the universe or co-creatures of God with the ancient Martians. See article.

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