Sunday, October 16, 2005

Traits of a livable world, carbon alternatives and spacesuit for Mars

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 space cloud that is featureless on the outside contains a star about to be born, astronomers found upon closer inspection. See article.
g Abodes - What does it take to make a livable world? A stable orbit, an atmosphere, liquid water, and a climate regulated by plate tectonics. Big moons of giant planets might qualify. See article.
g Life - Swarms of millions of locusts have, since Biblical times and until our very own day, been considered a "plague" of major proportions, with the creatures destroying every growing thing in their path. Until now, it was thought that the directions of these swarms were predominantly directed by prevailing winds. Now, Hebrew University of Jerusalem scientists have shown that a physiological trait of these grasshoppers - namely their polarization vision - provides them with a built-in source of "surface analysis." See article.
g Intelligence - From snail to man, one of the hallmarks of the brain is the ease with which behavioral variants are generated - for example, humans can easily walk with different stride lengths or different speeds. By studying how a relatively simple motor network of the marine snail Aplysia produces variants of a particular feeding behavior, researchers have found that the ability to generate a large number of behavioral variants stems from the elegant hierarchical architecture of the brain's motor network. See article.
g Message - Recent advances in wireless computing technology could improve deep-space missions like asteroid research and remote spacecraft operations by changing the way signals are sent from Earth. A new method designed to effectively deliver commands and instructions using hundreds of millions of tiny transmitters linked together could also free the giant satellite dishes currently used to send and receive the long-range information for other applications. A research paper describing the scheme for relatively simple high-power transmitters will be published in the October issue of Radio Science, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. See article.
g Cosmicus - What's it like to walk around on Mars in a space suit? No one knows for sure. But geologist Dean Eppler has come as close as anyone. In this interview, he talks about his experience working in the Mark III experimental suit, as part of this year's Desert RATS field season. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site courtesy of NASA: Timeline of the Universe. It’s a tutorial that follows the 15-billion-year-long history of the universe. See article.
g Imagining - Here’s a neat Web site that examines aliens in science fiction films. While short on studying the evolution of those aliens, it does discuss how these villainous creatures are a manifestation of our own fears, a nice take on the anthropomorphic bias most people possess regarding alien life.
g Aftermath - Putative extraterrestrial planets are being discovered at the rate of one a month. A subset of these exist in the liquid water zone and are thus capable of evolving life similar to that with which we are familiar. While perhaps not common, the development of technological civilizations seems possible for some of these worlds. If we are typical, the evolution of technological civilizations proceeds from a condition where physical laws are unknown to a state where the limits imposed by those laws are reached within a few hundred years. These limits (molecular nanotechnology on solar system scales) allow the construction of Dyson shell supercomputers ("Matrioshka Brains'') with thought capacities a trillion trillion times greater than that of a human brain and longevities measured in billions to trillions of years. Natural selection at stellar and galactic scales would, over time, eliminate any civilizations lacking these prodigious capabilities. We must consider that astronomical observations such as the missing baryonic dark matter and the gravitational microlensing observations may indicate that many such entities exist and that our galaxy is currently a Kardashev Type III civilization. See article.

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