Thursday, August 18, 2005

Free oxygen, developing plans for Mars and the Singularity

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 - A number of hypotheses have been used to explain how free oxygen first accumulated in Earth's atmosphere some 2.4 billion years ago, but a full understanding has proven elusive. Now a new model offers plausible scenarios for how oxygen came to dominate the atmosphere, and why it took at least 300 million years after bacterial photosynthesis started producing oxygen in large quantities. See article.
g Life - On Mars, plants would have to tolerate conditions that usually cause them a great deal of stress - severe cold, drought, low air pressure, soils that they didn't evolve for. But a plant physiologist and a microbiologist believe they can develop plants that can live in these conditions. See article.
g Intelligence - Perhaps the reason we haven’t contacted any extraterrestrial civilizations as of yet is because within a few hundred years, industrial civilizations reach a phase known in science fiction circles as the “Singularity.” See article.
g Message - Could intelligent beings in another solar system have hidden their sun by knocking their planets apart and using the pieces to build a hollow ball around their sun? For more on “Dyson Spheres,” see article.
g Cosmicus -The U.S. Department of Defense has signed off on NASA’s plan to use major space shuttle components as the basis for separate vehicles that will launch the agency’s new crew transport and 100-ton loads of Moon-bound cargo. See article.
g Learning - Americans love science in their movies and TV shows, yet recent reports indicate we are losing our scientific dominance to the rest of the world. Can science-themed entertainment get Americans off the couch and into the lab? See article.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Piers Anthony’s “Omnivore” (1968), which examines fungal life forms.
g Aftermath Before it was published, Richard Zare suspected that the paper proposing that a meteorite from Mars once hosted alien life would be a media sensation. It was. What Zare didn't expect was the course that the scientific debate has taken. He thought that the resulting discourse would be skeptical and opinionated, but also highly reasoned and dispassionate. But because of the high stakes ­ nothing less than the first discovery of alien life ­ and the intensity of the media spotlight, the scientific interchange has proven to be highly emotional and highly disruptive, he said. See article. Note: This article is from 1997.

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