Friday, September 16, 2005

Comets, ‘Threshold’ and the Great Silence

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 planetary scientists announced on July 29 that they had discovered a new planet larger than Pluto, the news overshadowed the two other objects the group had also found. But all three objects are odd additions to the solar system, and as such could revolutionize our understanding of how our part of the celestial neighborhood evolved. See article.
g Abodes - Painting by the numbers is a good description of how scientists create pictures of everything from atoms in our bodies to asteroids and comets in our solar system. Researchers involved in NASA's Deep Impact mission have been doing this kind of work since the mission's July 4 collision with comet Tempel 1. See article. For related story, see “Spitzer and Deep Impact build recipe for comet soup”.
g Life - Julia Child and physicist Philip Morrison once cooked up (and sampled) "primordial soup," a mixture of ingredients said to be the materials from which life sprang on Earth. How accurate is this notion? David Deamer studies how some molecules self-assemble into order, and has developed new theories about how life evolved from components on Earth. Listen to a talk with him, watch hands-on experiments and see vintage footage of Julia Child tasting the soup; scroll to “Life’s Ingredients.”
g Intelligence - The September issue of Genome Research presents a series of studies that provide insight into the evolution and variation of primate genomes. The issue appeared online and in print concomitant with the publication of the chimpanzee genome sequence in the journal Nature. See papers.
g Message - Book alert: In response to Enrico Fermi's famous 1950 question concerning the existence of advanced civilizations elsewhere, physicist Stephen Webb in “If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens... Where Is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to Fermi's Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life” critically examines 50 resolutions to explain the total absence of empirical evidence for probes, starships, and communications from extraterrestrials. He focuses on our Milky Way Galaxy, which to date has yielded no objects or signals that indicate the existence of alien beings with intelligence and technology. His comprehensive analysis covers topics ranging from the Drake equation and Dyson spheres to the panspermia hypothesis and anthropic arguments. Of special interest are the discussions on the DNA molecule, the origin of life on Earth, and the threats to organic evolution on this planet (including mass extinctions). Webb himself concludes that the "great silence" in nature probably results from humankind's being the only civilization now in this galaxy, if not in the entire universe. This richly informative and very engaging book is recommended for most academic and public library science collections. See reviews.
g Cosmicus - Book alert: Scour your used bookstores for “Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience,” by Eric M. Jones and Ben R. Finney (eds.). Most other books about interstellar travel are the same, talking about only the technology. But this one talks about the human part of it. The ideas range from "Why do it?" to "It's all so easy!" The multiple viewpoints are very interesting. See reviews.
g Learning - If you’re doing some basic research on evolution for a high school class project or to write a letter to the editor, a great place to start is Berkeley University’s “Evolution Wing” of its “UCMP Exhibit Hall.” These exhibits trace evolutionary thought as it has developed over time, pausing to ponder the contributions of scientists and thinkers including Aristotle, Darwin and Wallace. See reviews.
g Imagining - The creep factor is certainly high when you have bugs, blood and people compelled to move in patterns sent from another world. Such is the case in “Threshold,” CBS’ addition to Friday night television sci-fi (premieres today, 9 p.m. EDT), in which a government team is all that stands between a little-understood alien threat and all of mankind. See article.
g Aftermath Here’s an intriguing essay that discusses what might happen if we do too little to contact extraterrestrials; as the authors argue, “…skepticism regarding SETI is at best unfounded and at worst can seriously damage the long-term prospects of humanity. If ETIs exist, no matter whether friendly or adversarial (or even beyond such simple distinctions), they are relevant for our future. To neglect this is contraryy to the basic tenets of transhumanism. To appreciate this, it is only sufficient to imagine the consequences of SETI success for any aspect of transhumanist interests, and then to affirm that such a success can only be achieved without trying if they come to us, which would obviously mean that we are hopelessly lagging in the race for galactic colonization.” See article.

Get your SF book manuscript edited

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future