Friday, July 15, 2005

Photosynthesis alternatives, living in space for fun and ‘A for Andromeda’

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 star that has begun eclipsing every 48 days shows the remarkable time scales of stellar evolution. The eclipsing star may be “winking,” according to Harvard-Smithsonian astronomers, because of a protoplanetary disk that beckons a solar system coming of age. Such changes may give scientists a first-row seat to witness what usually eludes a lifetime of study: planets as they form. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Abodes - Mars is a rocky planet with an ancient volcanic past, but new findings show the planet is more complex and active than previously believed - at least in certain places. See article.
g Life - The possibility of complex life on other worlds may depend on green plant photosynthesis. But could this sunlight-dependent process evolve on worlds that orbit stars different from our sun? See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Intelligence - Alongside language, the ability of inventing and making new tools is considered one of the most distinctive features of Homo. No other living animals have these abilities, and probably the extinct hominids had them in a primitive, initial stage, setting the difference with other non-human primates. Therefore, the emergence of a technology to manufacture stone tools during the evolution of hominids represents a radical social and behavioral departure from apes, and is the first documented evidence for a cultural tradition with value for survival, i.e., based upon learning. See article.
g Message - Book alert: Despite an evidently open-minded attitude, Barry R. Parker in his new book “Alien Life: The Search for Extraterrestrials and Beyond” delivers the hard line to ET enthusiasts: "Strangely, we haven't found a single sign of life beyond our solar system." In “Alien Life,” the emeritus Idaho State University professor of astronomy and physics summarizes recent scientific conjecture on extraterrestrial life without venturing much personal speculation. He considers the "architecture of life" and the mystery of DNA as related to its possible exploitation elsewhere; the possibility of non-carbon-based life forms; the history of Mars exploration (including the recent "meteorite from Mars" discovery); the results of NASA space probes; the discovery of distant planets through advanced telescopy; and SETI's search for alien radio signals. Parker acknowledges the contentions of UFO believers, but devotes few pages to claims of alien encounters such as the well-known Roswell incident. Steering clear of that controversy as "an argument not likely to be resolved in the near future," Parker's hopeful and energetic book ends up reinforcing the science establishment's lonely outlook for humanity, but still leaves room for the possibility that if they are out there, we will find them - or they, us. See article.
g Cosmicus - Plenty of copy has been written about living in space, but they tend to concentrate on the past experience of people who have stayed in orbit. These people have nearly all been in the unusual situation of doing scientific research. And they have all undergone extensive selection and training, because going to orbit is so expensive today that it would be very wasteful if they were ill or failed to do some of their planned work. And so they've mostly been very busy all the time. So most books don't say much about how it will be for people to live in space for fun — for example in an orbiting hotel. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat lesson: “All the World’s a Stage ... for Dust.” In this lesson, students tune in to a NASA website and watch giant dust clouds as they ride global rivers of air, cross-pollinating continents with topsoil and microbes. See lesson.
g Imagining - Like stories about efforts to communicate with alien? Then be sure to read Fred Hoyle’s “A for Andromeda” (1962). See article.
g Aftermath - While formal principles have been adopted for the eventuality of detecting intelligent life in our galaxy, no such guidelines exist for the discovery of non-intelligent extraterrestrial life within the solar system. Current scientifically based planetary protection policies for solar system exploration address how to undertake exploration, but do not provide clear guidance on what to do if and when life is detected. Considering that Martian life could be detected under several different robotic and human exploration scenarios in the coming decades, it is appropriate to anticipate how detection of non-intelligent, microbial life could impact future exploration missions and activities, especially on Mars. See article.

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