Thursday, November 24, 2005

Cosmological constant, inspiration from evolution and future moon bases

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 - The genius of Albert Einstein, who added a "cosmological constant" to his equation for the expansion of the universe but later retracted it, may be vindicated by new research. The enigmatic dark energy that drives the accelerating expansion of the universe behaves just like Einstein's famed cosmological constant, according to the Supernova Legacy Survey. The observations reveal that the dark energy behaves like Einstein's cosmological constant to a precision of 10 percent. See article.
g Abodes - Here’s a Web page that presents a transcript of an interview with extrasolar planet hunter Geoffrey Marcy broadcast on the PBS program "NewsHour." See article. Note: The interview took place on Jan. 18, 1996.
g Life - Among all the senses that organisms possess, vision is perhaps the most varied in all the animal kingdom. Millions of years of evolution have produced more than ten different animal vision systems, each perfectly tailored to suit the needs of its owner. Scientists who look to nature when designing synthetic optics therefore have a lot to choose from. From birds to insects, whales to squid, researchers are taking inspiration from all corners of the animal kingdom when designing artificial eyes. In last week’s issue of the journal Science, Luke Lee, a bioengineer from the University of California Berkeley, reviewed the advances and possibilities. See article.
g Intelligence - Infants begin pulling off an amazing feat sometime in the final three months of their first year of life. They learn an important social interaction by following the gaze of an adult, a step that scientists believe gives babies a leg up on understanding language. See article.
g Message - Discovery Semiconductors has delivered wide bandwidth optical receivers for SETI’s Allen Telescope Array. See article.
g Cosmicus - If a planet or moon has only a slight rotational tilt, a tall mountain or crater rim can be forever bathed in sunlight. In 1994, NASA's Clementine mission found candidates for such "peaks of eternal light" on the moon's north and south poles. Today, the European Space Agency's SMART-1 spacecraft is orbiting the moon, hoping to confirm those peaks of light and find others as well. In this essay, SMART-1 principal scientist Bernard Foing explains why such sites would be ideal places for future bases on the moon. See article. For related story, see "Mockup Provides Early Glimpse of New Exploration Vehicle".
g Learning - Book alert: Astrobiology is one of the hottest areas of current research, reflecting not only impressive advances in the understanding of the origin of life but also the discovery of over 100 extrasolar planets in recent years. "Astrophysics of Life," offered by Cambridge University Press, is based on a meeting held at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which aimed to lay the astrophysical groundwork for locating habitable places in the Universe. Written by leading scientists in the field, it covers a range of topics relevant to the search for life in the universe, including: cosmology and its implications for the emergence of life, the habitable zone in the Milky Way Galaxy, the formation of stars and planets, the study of interstellar and interplanetary matter, searches for extrasolar planets, the synthesis of organic material in space, and spectroscopic signatures that could be used to detect life. This is an invaluable resource for both professional researchers and graduate students. See article.
g Imagining - Are there any alternatives to DNA or RNA, as an "X-Files" episode said there was? See article.
g Aftermath - What are the societal implications of astrobiology? A NASA workshop in 1999 set out to determine what they might be. Here’s their report.

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