Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Barnard’s Star, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and hot primordial soup

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 - What’s the second closest star to Earth after the Alpha Centauri system? The dim Barnard’s Star, only 6 light years away. See article.
g Abodes - The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, set to launch on Wednesday, will search for evidence that liquid water once persisted on the surface of Mars. This orbiter also will provide detailed surveys of the planet, identifying any obstacles that could jeopardize the safety of future landers and rovers. See article.
g Life - A new theory that explains why the language of our genes is more complex than it needs to be also suggests that the primordial soup where life began on earth was hot and not cold, as many scientists believe. See article.
g Intelligence - Philosophers and mystics couldn’t figure it out. Now even physicists are taking a shot at understanding “consciousness.” See article.
g Message - It's not easy to look for life somewhere other than Earth. First, scientists searching for life in space have to come up with a working definition of 'extraterrestrial life'. Next, they need to develop a strategy identifying places and methods for their search. To make matters more complicated, all of this has to be done without contaminating the search site with life from Earth or contaminating Earth with potential extraterrestrial life. See article.
g Cosmicus - NASA has decided that its next launch vehicle for getting humans into space will be based on the space shuttle system, including its main engines, solid rocket boosters and external tank. There will be one big difference, though, instead of riding along the side of the new rocket, astronauts in the future will be riding on top on top of their next launcher - above any debris that might fall off. See article.
g Learning - While sleek crime-scene TV shows have turned students on to forensic science, an investigation of today's high school laboratories shows that reality isn't so flattering. See article.
g Imagining - Here’s an interesting critical examination of science fiction aliens that’s worth reading: George E. Slusser’s "Metamorphoses of the Dragon," in “Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction," (Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin, eds., 1987). It critiques LeGuin's ideas about dragons as fantasy creatures, then goes on to discuss dragon-like aliens in SF in Clarke's “Childhood's End” and Herbert's “Dune” and “Dragon in the Sea” series, bringing in contexts as wide-ranging as Beowulf, the work of Escher, subatomic physics and Sagan's “Dragons of Eden.”
g Aftermath - Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence depends as much upon social support for the project as upon appropriate engineering design and upon the actual existence of a nearby extrasolar civilization. The results of a sociological survey of 1,465 American college students provide the first detailed analysis of the social and ideological factors that influence support for CETI, thereby suggesting ways that support might be increased. Linked to the most idealistic goals of the space program, notably interplanetary colonization, enthusiasm for CETI is little affected by attitudes toward technology or militarism. Few sciences or scholarly fields encourage CETI, with the exceptions of anthropology and astronomy. Support is somewhat greater among men than among women, but the sex difference is far less than in attitudes toward space flight in general. Evangelical Protestantism, represented by the "Born Again" movement, strongly discourages support for CETI. Just as exobiology begins with an understanding of terrestrial biology, exosociology on the question of how interstellar contact can be achieved should begin with serious sociological study of factors operating on our own world. See article.

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