Monday, September 19, 2005

Mystery stardust, reducing atmosphere and the anthropology of science fiction

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 - An ancient, near-death star with a disc of metal-rich dust orbiting around it has recently been discovered by astronomers. The dust's origin is a mystery, though, as it should have been sucked into the star within a few hundred years of the star's death. See article.
g Abodes - Using primitive meteorites called chondrites as their models, earth and planetary scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have performed outgassing calculations and shown that the early Earth's atmosphere was a reducing one, chock full of methane, ammonia, hydrogen and water vapor. See article.
g Life - DNA is the building block for life on Earth. But it is a highly complex molecule, and could not have arranged itself spontaneously. What did it develop from? Astrobiologists examine possible ancestors of DNA: nucleic acids called PNA, p-RNA, and TNA. See article. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Intelligence - Johns Hopkins researchers have discovered a discrete region of the monkey brain that processes pitch, the relative high and low points of sound, by recognizing a single musical note played by different instruments. See article.
g Message - In 2001, California astronomers broadened the search for extraterrestrial intelligence with a new experiment to look for powerful light pulses beamed our way from other star systems. Scientists from the University of California's Lick Observatory, the SETI Institute, UC-Santa Cruz, and UC-Berkeley used the Lick Observatory's 40-inch Nickel Telescope with a new pulse-detection system capable of finding laser beacons from civilizations many light-years distant. Unlike other optical SETI searches, this new experiment is largely immune to false alarms that slow the reconnaissance of target stars. See article.
g Cosmicus - Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) announced recently that it will develop a Falcon 9 booster – an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle class vehicle. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity courtesy of NASA: Students will construct a Winogradsky Column to observe the growth of microbes in a column of mud. During this investigation students will develop a hypothesis, record their observations and results and form conclusions. They will compare and contrast their methods during the investigation with those of the astrobiologists performing research in the field and the laboratory. See lesson.
g Imagining - Scour your used bookstore shelves for this interesting critical examination of science fiction aliens: George E. Slusser’s and Eric S. Rabkin’s (eds.) “Aliens: the anthropology of science fiction” (1987). It’s an excellent collection of essays and includes Larry Niven, Greg Benford, essays on dragons in S, friendly aliens, supermen as aliens, telepaths as aliens, robots as aliens, a history of dolls as aliens, Wells' aliens, “Neuromancer” and “Enemy Mine.”
g Aftermath - With humanity now on the verge of being capable to leave its home world, Earth, scientists have begun to wrestle with the consequences of this next great journey; of the social impact humanity will have upon discovering life elsewhere, be it fossil, bacterial or an intelligent civilization. See article. Note: This article is from 1999.

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