Saturday, August 20, 2005

Microcompartments, paradox of intelligence and ‘The Alien Way’

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 - The European Space Agency’s Markus Landgraf and his colleagues have found the first direct evidence that a bright disc of dust surrounds our Solar System, starting beyond the orbit of Saturn. Remarkably, their discovery gives astronomers a way to determine which other stars in the galaxy are most likely to harbor planets and allows mission planners to draw up a "short-list" of stars to be observed by future planet-search missions, such as Eddington and Darwin. See article. Note: This article is from 2002.
g Abodes - Interplanetary geologists are busy this week analyzing the first sets of data from an Italian subsurface sounding radar currently orbiting Mars, as a crucial counterpart sits on a Florida launch pad ready to join the hunt for conjectured underground ice and water. See article.
g Life - UCLA biochemists reveal the first structural details of a family of mysterious objects called microcompartments that seem to be present in a variety of bacteria, and the first high resolution insights into how they function. The discovery blurs the distinction between eukaryotic cells and those of prokaryotes by showing that bacterial cells are more complex than imagined. See article.
g Intelligence - The appearance of intelligence in Earth entails a paradox: We only recognize it and appraise it directly because we are intelligent. Other forms of life, the environment, and now, even the sidereal space, are at the receiving end of our intelligence, our acts and doings, but they cannot understand it. See article.
g Message - Book alert: Scour your used bookstore shelves for “Life Beyond Earth,” by Timothy Ferris. Rock-solid science writer Ferris has covered this ground before. In the two-hour PBS documentary that he wrote and narrated - which shares the title, text, and many of the images of this generously illustrated book - Ferris tackles two age-old questions about the potentially universal nature of life: Are we alone, and, if not, is anybody listening? See article.
g Cosmicus - What are the possibilities of the human exploration and colonization of space, beginning with the moon and Mars? Here’s a highly speculative piece that raises such questions as "Would it ever be possible?" "Would it be desirable?" "What parallels are there between such an effort and the Polynesian exploration and colonization of the Pacific?" "Would it be more desirable for global human society to make an effort to develop a sustainable culture within the limits of the resources of earth, rather than continue to expand?" This provocative article is the starting point for debate about the future of humanity. See article. Note: The article does get the wrong date for Sputnik’s launch (it was 1957).
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Gravity Hurts.” In this activity, students can sample some of the sensations of space right here on Earth, using the "weightless arms" isometric exercise and a good old-fashioned headstand. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Gordon Dickson’s “The Alien Way” (1965). See review.
g Aftermath How to predict reactions to receipt of evidence for an otherworldly intelligence? Some scientists argue that any unpredictable outcomes can only be judged against our own history. See article.

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