Sunday, September 11, 2005

Intergalactic traveler, “The Cosmic Water Hole’ and conversing with ET

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 - A speeding, superdense neutron star somehow got a powerful "kick" that is propelling it completely out of our Milky Way Galaxy into the cold vastness of intergalactic space. See article.
g Abodes - Scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division, the University of Western Ontario, the Aerospace Corporation, and Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories found evidence that dust from an asteroid burning up as it descended through Earth's atmosphere formed a cloud of micron-sized particles significant enough to influence local weather in Antarctica. See article.
g Life - Book alert: Scour your used book store shelves for Emmanuel Davoust’s “The Cosmic Water Hole,” which provides a rich yet succinct basis for understanding the stages of life in the cosmos - evolution from the Big Bang to the formation of elements and planets; organic molecules in interstellar space, meteorites, and comets; prebiotic chemistry in Saturn's largest satellite; possible primitive life in Mars' substratum; and the notion of evolved forms superior to ourselves. Above all, he points out, the search for life beyond Earth provides a valuable perspective, teaching us to look at our planet and at ourselves "through a stranger's eyes." Davoust also covers such intriguing terrain as the demography and sociology of extraterrestrials. He provides a nontechnical account of search strategies, listening projects, and the debates they engender - including the "Proxmire effect," Carl Sagan's petition, and Fred Hoyle's interstellar bacteria. See article.
g Intelligence - Scientists at the University of Liverpool have discovered that the human brain favors familiar-looking faces when choosing a potential partner. See article.
g Message - Book alert: In “Sharing the Universe: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life,“ a fascinating speculative book, author Seth Shostak builds a careful case for the importance of the institute's work, narrowing the range of the galaxy's possibly life-nurturing stars and imagining what forms non-carbon-based life might take. "Although a majority of the American public is convinced that aliens are making house calls to planet Earth," Shostak writes, "most scientists aren't." In prose as lively and dramatic as the science-fiction movies he clearly savors, in the book's final chapters Shostak describes scientific reality: "If it happens, it will begin slowly and without warning in a radio telescope's cramped, cluttered, control room.... under a hundred tons of steel faced off against the pinpoint gleams of the night sky." The book is rich in considered, engaging science, with occasional lapses into excessive speculation about artificial intelligence in space, or into plugs for the institute. Sections on possible alien behavior, on motives for contact and means of contact — all of which make comparisons to movies — are compelling as they reveal as much about us as about anyone who may pop across for a visit. See reviews.
g Cosmicus - When first we meet those aliens in outer space, will we and they be able to converse? Yes, we will – provided they are motivated to cooperate – because we'll both think similar ways. Though arguments for this are very weak, let's pretend, for brevity, that things are clearer than they are. There then are two reasons why aliens will think like us, in spite of different origins. All problem-solvers, intelligent or not, are subject to the same ultimate constraints–limitations on space, time, and materials. In order for animals to evolve powerful ways to deal with such constraints, they must have ways to represent the situations they face, and they must have processes for manipulating those representations. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a great resource for middle school science teachers; “Life on Other Planets in the Solar System.” See lesson.
g Imagining - How did humanity come to believe that intelligent life might exist in other solar systems? And what have our fictional aliens looked like through the ages? See article.
g Aftermath - Could religions survive contact with extraterrestrials? The Medieval Church didn't think so, as the discovery would challenge mankind's central role in the cosmos. Today such ideas are considered old fashioned, and many theologians welcome the discovery of life — even intelligent life — among the stars. But if scientists were to find microscopic Martians or a signal from another world, would established religions really take it in stride? For a discussion, check out this past program of SETI’s “Are We Alone?” Note: An mp3 player is required to play the audio files; you can download one at the site for free.

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