Monday, September 05, 2005

Newborn black holes, increase in diversity and SETI pioneers

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 - Scientists using NASA's Swift satellite say they have found newborn black holes, just seconds old, in a confused state of existence. The holes are consuming material falling into them while somehow propelling other material away at great speeds. See article.
g Abodes - Data from the Cassini spacecraft indicate that Saturn's majestic ring system has its own atmosphere - separate from that of the planet itself. During its close fly-bys of the ring system, instruments on Cassini have been able to determine that the environment around the rings is like an atmosphere, composed principally of molecular oxygen. See article.
g Life - While the count of species has gone from a few to more than 30 million, it has long been wondered whether this apparent diversity involves fossil biases: more modern fossils survive to be classified. University of Chicago researchers have studied marine animal diversity to uncover sampling problems and conclude that during the last 250 million years, the 10-fold increase in diversity is genuine. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Intelligence - Neuroscientists imaging the brain have confirmed a 40-year-old claim that humans have an untapped ability to localize odors in the same way we localize sounds. In fact, the brain seems to use the same brain region used by the ears to translate input from the two nostrils into spatial information. Someday, humans may vie with dogs and pigs in the ability to track smells. See article.
g Message - Book alert: Sixteen scientists (including Philip Morrison, Carl Sagan, Freeman Dyson, and Nobel laureate Melvin Calvin) discuss their work, their lives and this new field of science in “SETI Pioneers: Scientists Talk About Their Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” by David W. Swift. Their stories, collected in interviews by sociologist Swift (University of Hawaii) show how the image of a new research field can change over time from lunatic fringe to scientific respectability. See reviews.
g Cosmicus - After sending its first astronaut into orbit two years from now, Malaysia is hoping for a giant leap forward that will land one of its citizens set on the moon by 2020, news reports said. See article.
g Learning - There’s a neat set of online activities, primarily for older teens or young adults, about communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence at article. It helps students learn about SETI while they send one another messages then decode them, as if they were alien civilizations on distant worlds.
g Imagining - Science fiction authors produce a lot of very strange critters. In the desperate dash to be different, many go way overboard to invent fantastic, outlandish species unlike anything anyone has ever seen. It’s an admirable expression of their artistic abilities, but there’s an inherent problem: They almost always lose the reader along the way. Sure, it sounds ultra-cool to have a whole herd of 80-foot quasi-limbed orb-stasis beings, but unless you draw me a picture of these things, the reader often has no idea what you’re talking about. However, if you write that your alien has four wings, 10 eyes and looks a little like a kangaroo, the reader is right there with you. Most readers need at least something familiar to draw on for their imagination, or they get lost. See article.
g Aftermath - As we look toward exploring other worlds, and perhaps even bringing samples back to Earth for testing, astrobiologists have to wonder: could there be alien pathogens in those samples that will wreak havoc on our world? See article. Note: This article is from 2003.

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