Thursday, July 14, 2005

Limits on organic life, contact by 2010 and astrosociology

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 - When unusually warm dust was first discovered around the nearby star Zeta Leporis, infrared astronomers begun hunting in detail for the heat source. According to research at UCLA, what the star may be undergoing is asteroid and planet formation similar to that of our own early solar system. For infrared astronomers the warm particle halo may reveal more than just a hot cloud. It may reveal a dusty disk that resembles an asteroid belt. See article. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Abodes - Geologists at Queen's University have discovered that the time it takes for mountain ranges to form is millions of years shorter than previously thought. See article.
g Life - What are the limits of organic life in planetary systems? It’s a heady question that, if answered, may reveal just how crowded the cosmos could be with alien biology. See article. Note: This article is from 2002.
g Intelligence - Despite all differences that separate humans from other animals, especially non-human primates, it is the capacity for symbolic language that truly set us uniquely apart. Many differences we have in respect to other primates are relatively small, and incremental in nature, but there is nothing like our ability for language, in all its forms. According to authors Terrence Deacon (in "The Symbolic Species") and Ian Tattersal (in "Becoming Humans"), our brains must have a fundamental difference in respect to other primate's brains, because although they seem to have some capacity for use of symbols and for communication using signs and vocalizations, there are enormous differences in the complexity of human symbolic language and it cannot be explained by a simple increase in volume of neural tissue. See article.
g Message - By 2010 we will know if nearby planets are inhabited. That's the amazing claim that Dr. Stuart Clark - director of public astronomy education at the University of Hertfordshire - makes in his thought-provoking book, “Life on Other Worlds and How to Find It.” See reviews.
g Cosmicus - As we become a spacefaring civilization, one field that will grow in prominence is “astrosociology.” For an examination of current, practical problems that the field examines, see article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Sizzling Comets.” It explores the future of our solar system as the Sun becomes a red giant. See activity.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien anthropology and cultures? Then be sure to read Robert Silverberg’s “Downward to the Earth” (1970), in which a colonial administrator tries to do justice to alien culture. See reviews.
g Aftermath - The scientific discussion of the evolution of life in the universe raises some key philosophical and theological issues: Will life and intelligence be found throughout the universe, or will it turn out to be exceedingly rare? Will intelligent life be capable of both rationality and moral agency? Will evolutionary biology determine its moral content or will it merely bequeath intelligent life with moral capacity, leaving moral content to be determined independently of biology? If moral agency evolves, will these species inevitably exhibit moral failure, or is our generic human experience of moral failure strictly the result of our particular evolution, leaving us to expect there to be other civilizations that are entirely benign? The discussion of these issues, though largely hypothetical, can offer insight into the theological and cultural implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence as well into a better understanding of the human condition. See article.

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