Saturday, October 22, 2005

Extragalactic Legacy project, toward a cosmic perspective and ‘Sample of the Future’

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 - Spectacular images taken by the Spitzer Wide-area Infrared Extragalactic Legacy project encapsulate one of the primary objectives of the Spitzer mission: to connect the evolution of galaxies from the distant, or early, universe to the nearby, or present day, universe. See article.
g Abodes - A study suggests far more of our solar system may be capable of sustaining basic life than previously thought. See article. Note: This article is from 2002.
g Life - The discovery of possible microfossils in ALH84001 has generated another round in the debate about life in meteorites and/or comets. The claims that meteorites contain organic structures is as old as the study of meteorites and has led to at least three possible interpretations of the data: 1) organic compounds are of abiotic origin, but could give insight into the origins of life on earth; 2) they are ``fossils'' of life on the meteorite or on its parent body; and 3) meteorites or comets contain living materials. The last is connected to the idea of panspermia, the dispersion of life through the universe, which finds its contemporary expression in the work of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe. The debate, especially furious in the 1960s, has often centered on carbonaceous chondrites, which may contain the materials of the early solar system and/or prebiologic compounds formed in the solar nebula, in interstellar clouds, or on the chondrite's parent body. Scientists have also reported finding organic structures in other types of meteorites, even in iron meteorites. The length of the cycle of debate about organic materials in meteorites or comets appears in to be 25-30 years. See article. Note: This article is from 1996.
g Intelligence - Psychological stress during infancy has been found to cause early impaired memory and a decline in related cognitive abilities, according to a UC Irvine School of Medicine study. The study suggests that the emotional stress associated with parental loss, abuse or neglect may contribute to the type of memory loss during middle-age years that is normally seen in the elderly. See article.
g Message - Humans have debated the best ways to contact our interstellar neighbors for centuries. Here’s an article retracing that history.
g Cosmicus - The intelligence with which we are familiar is limited to specific life forms we know on this planet. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been called a "science without a subject," because by definition it is about something that we have not yet encountered (New Age fantasies notwithstanding!). We are looking for our counterparts somewhere else, but do not have an external perspective from which to grasp even what we ourselves are. Perhaps our concept of intelligence is as geocentric as our concepts of culture and biology, in spite of the drive to abstract intelligence from its roots and infrastructure. In other words, our notions about ET are limited in that we tend to imagine only beings in our image, but also because we lack a general perspective, or theory of intelligence, within which to place that or any other image. In this circumstance speculation cannot advance much further than the science of Aristotle or the medieval scholastics. Yet pondering the "science without a subject" — even when it seems to be stating the obvious — helps at least to organize thought about life and intelligence on this planet, and is a step. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: "Samples of the Future." In this lesson, students learn how the advanced space ships of tomorrow will be crafted from far-out materials that can handle the harsh environment of space. See article.
g Imagining -While science fiction has come a long way from the days of bug-eyed monsters, the genre still hasn't gone far enough in presenting well-conceived alien beings. As a derivative genre, role-playing games have an even poorer record. See article.
g Aftermath - Some of the best discussion of the consequences of alien contact occurs in science fiction. Here’s a novel that ranks among the most important in that dialogue: Arthur C. Clark’s "Songs of a Distant Earth." Look for it at your library or local used bookstore.

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