Saturday, September 03, 2005

Coming near miss, sunlight’s effect on DNA and life on a neutron star

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 - How dust specks in the early solar systems came together to become planets has vexed astronomers for years. Scientists report in the current issue of Astrophysical Journal a cool answer to the planet-formation riddle: Micron-wide dust particles encrusted with molecularly gluey ice enabled planets to bulk up like dirty snowballs quickly enough to overcome the scattering force of solar winds. See article.
g Abodes - Humans live in a vast solar system where 2,000 feet seems a razor-thin distance. Yet it's just wide enough to trigger concerns that an asteroid due to buzz Earth on April 13, 2029, may shift its orbit enough to return and strike the planet seven years later. See article.
g Life - Chemists at Ohio State University have gained new insight into how sunlight affects DNA. And what they found overturns ideas about genetic mutation that originated decades ago. See article.
g Intelligence - A few simple but important steps that have led to the manufacture of radio telescopes. In human evolution, the development of facilities and fire was critical in the establishment of a metal technology. Adequate resources derived from agriculture were essential for the development of advanced technology. At all stages, the ratio of cost to reward had to be small and the technological development had to follow an appropriate cultural preadaptation. Play would unquestionably have been important in technological innovation. The history of toys has yet to be written, but it may be a key to an understanding of the progressive development of human technology. See article.
g Message - Although the title of “Aliens: Can We Make Contact with Extraterrestrial Intelligence?” by Andrew J. H. Clark, David H. Clark, may conjure up visions of “The X-Files,” this sensible book has more affinity with the movie “Contact.” Above all, it is a plea for continued support of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, presently conducted as the privately funded Project Phoenix due to the withdrawal of government backing. Although readers of other major books on this subject, such as the classic “Are We Alone?” by Paul Davies or the more recent “Probability One,” will be familiar with much of the material here, this is a solid primer for those new to the actual science involved in current efforts to find ETI. See reviews.
g Cosmicus - There’s a wonderful collection of brief NASA movies and animations that can be downloaded (they’re in the public domain) here. Among the topics are various planets, the sun and the International Space Station.
g Learning - An interesting article about Kenneth R. Miller, a 57-year-old biology professor at Brown University — who one of the science's most tireless defenders in the fight against intelligent design — appeared in Sunday’s Hartford Courant. See article.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Robert L. Dragon's “Egg” (1980), which describes life on a neutron star.
g Aftermath - Scientists should pay greater attention to discussing the social implications of discovering extraterrestrial life - even though many researchers shy away from the subject because they don't consider it "hard" science. See article.

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