Friday, July 01, 2005

Portrait of humanity, constructing a Winogradsky Column and dinner with Captain Kirk

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 - Is life on Earth doomed to extinction due to the Sun’s changing nature? As our sun grows ever brighter, the Earth's habitability will be reduced. How long can life last on Earth? Do you think all life in the universe shares a similar fate? If the Earth's habitable zone does have a time limit, does the same necessarily hold true for other worlds? See article.
g Abodes - The thousands of oval lakes that dot Alaska's North Slope are some of the fastest-growing lakes on the planet. How the lakes grow so fast, why they're oriented in the same direction and what gives them their odd shape has puzzled geologists for decades. New research indicates that the lakes' unusual shape, orientation and speed of expansion all result from seasonal warming of the permafrost. See article.
g Life - We humans think we're pretty tough, pretty smart, and pretty much the Overlords of the Earth. Well, we are sort of smart, and we've used those smarts to make us much more tough than we are naturally. In some sense, we have, indeed, become the Overlords of the Earth. Technological wonders notwithstanding, the range of conditions that we can endure is still very limited. Of course, we view the rest of the cosmos from our own perspective. As such, we define places that we find personally uncomfortable as "extreme environments," but does this term have any real meaning for biology on Earth and for exobiology on other planets? See article. Note: This article is from 1999.
g Intelligence - A good night's sleep triggers changes in the brain that help to improve memory, according to a new study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. 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 - University of California-Berkeley, researchers have invented a variation on the standard electronic transistor, creating the first "nanofluidic" transistor that allows them to control the movement of ions through sub-microscopic, water-filled channels. The researchers - a chemist and a mechanical engineer - predict that, just as the electronic transistor became the main component of microprocessors and integrated circuits, so will nanofluidic transistors anchor molecular processors, allowing microscopic chemical plants on a chip that operate without moving parts. See article.
g Learning -Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: Students will construct a Winogradsky Column to observe the growth of microbes in a column of mud. During this investigation students will develop a hypothesis, record their observations and results and form conclusions. They will compare and contrast their methods during the investigation with those of the astrobiologists performing research in the field and the laboratory. See article.
g Imagining - Traditionally, since films and television have to cater to a wider audience, their scientific basis is often watered down or not even present at all - take, for example, “Star Trek” in all its incarnations - terms such as “positronic matrix” and “rotating shield phase variances” hold no place in science. However, there are a few notable films and television shows that deserve to be credited for their scientific content. See article.
g Aftermath - Director, writer, and one of the most memorable fictional explorers of space - William Shatner's Captain Kirk - explains how to go where few have gone before: how extreme explorers might confront the limits of life both terrestrial or beyond. See article.

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