Sunday, August 21, 2005

Life’s origin, NASA’s new road map and ‘Metamorphoses of the Dragon’

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 a binary star system starts to transfer mass, one of the twins may well win out, leaving its companion to occupy a strange region half way between a star and a planet. A new star-type of this sort has been found, which resembles the infrared ash of a stillborn star. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
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 - Questions about the existence of life in outer space may have a surprisingly close-to-home answer, according to one University of Houston professor. Understanding how life evolved on Earth is important in obtaining clues as to where else in the universe one might find life and what it might be like, said George E. Fox, a UH professor of biology and biochemistry. Fox is finishing work on a three-year research grant from NASA's Exobiology Program that seeks to understand life's origin. See article.
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 - 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 - NASA's new road map for the human exploration of space would land four astronauts on the moon by 2018 as the first step toward an eventual six-person voyage to Mars. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site: Solar System Live. It allows you to observe the locations of planets at various (modern) dates. 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.”

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