Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Star-stuff, in search of Dyson spheres and theological implications of first contact

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 - Carl Sagan famously said, "We are made of star-stuff." In the last few years, discoveries have revealed how this star-stuff could have played a role in life's origin. While such findings provide hope that life is widespread in the universe, it also creates a challenge for astrobiologists searching for life on other worlds. See article.
g Abodes - The Cassini spacecraft discovered the long, cracked features dubbed "tiger stripes" on Saturn's icy moon Enceladus are very young. They are between 10 and 1,000 years old. See article. For related stories, see “Cloudy Saturn” and “Gravity Assist Bumper Cars.”
g Life - How might life have began? Many scientists today believe in the scalding waters of the deep ocean. See article. Note: This article is a few years old.
g Intelligence - The ability to take in visual cues and basically fill in the blanks allows humans to process information very quickly, but new research shows that it also can lead to misperceptions – like seeing things that are not there. See article.
g Message - Here’s a new take on searching for extraterrestrial life: A UC-Berkeley student is looking for signs of advanced civilizations that have enclosed their home star within a giant sphere at “In Search of Dyson Spheres.” See article.
g Cosmicus - Kepler is a proposed extrasolar planet detection mission that would measure the transit of extrasolar planets in front of their parent star. From the brightness change the planet size can be calculated. From the period the orbital size can be calculated and the planet's temperature estimated. For more, see the NASA Ames Research Center Web page at article.
g Learning - Picture this: Only a half-century from now, some clever scientist in Chicago invents a time machine, a heavy mound of hissing machinery that can transport you millions of years into the past with a precision of a few feet in space, and a few milliseconds in time. So is the new movie “A Sound of Thunder” worth watching? For one SETI scientists perspective, see article.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for C.J. Cherryh’s “The Faded Sun: Kesrith” (1979), which introduces the baggy skinned regal BET Forward.
g Aftermath Book alert: “Many Worlds: The New Universe, Extraterrestrial Life, and the Theological Implications,” by Steven J. Dick (ed.), is a provocative collection examining science's impact on theology. Based on a 1998 conference sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, this collection of essays opens with the observation that the Copernican revolution looks insignificant when compared to the discoveries made about the earth and the universe in the last century: we now know, for example, that the universe is billions (not thousands) of light-years big; that it is expanding, not static; that our galaxy is just one of many, not the entirety of the universe. But from looking at modern theology, you wouldn't think anything had changed. The contributors (who include physicists, philosophers, historians of science, and theologians) suggest that cosmological advances might reshape the very fundamentals of theology. Paul C.W. Davies argues that if the universe turns out to be biofriendly (i.e., if given enough time and the right conditions, life will emerge as a matter of course), scientifically savvy thinkers may be compelled to reject atheism and embrace intelligent design theory. The contributors are especially interested in extraterrestrial life: philosopher Ernan McMullin, for example, argues that extraterrestrial intelligence will force Christians to do some hard thinking about original sin, the human soul, and the Incarnation. See reviews.

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