Sunday, November 27, 2005

Failed star forms solar system, world's largest mass extinction and the origin question

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 a combination of ground-based and orbiting telescopes have discovered a failed star, less than one-hundredth the mass of the Sun, possibly in the process of forming a solar system. See article. For related story, see “Stellar weathervane”.
g Abodes - The world's largest mass extinction was probably caused by poisonous volcanic gas. The research, published in the journal Geology, reveals vital clues about the mass extinction at the end of the Permian period, 250 million years ago. See article.
g Life - While the past half century has seen an explosion of knowledge about the evolution of life after it began, there has been relatively little progress in the past half century on how it began—the so-called origin question. See article.
g Intelligence - Every few years scientists unearth the bones of humanity's forefathers. From Lucy to the Hobbits of Flores Island - we are gradually seeing building the puzzle of mankind's evolution. See article.
g Message - It has become somewhat accepted that an extrasolar contact could be interpreted as a good "artificial" signal if it arose from certain branches of mathematics. If another galactic civilization decided to reach us, they would send a beacon of bleeps akin to the digits of "pi" or only prime numbers, because they would realize that no natural process could mimic them. Renowned author and MacArthur "genius" award winner, Stephen Wolfram, argues for a new kind of science, and argues that the line between "artificial" and "natural" signals is not nearly so clear as first supposed. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Cosmicus - Despite its potential to support NASA’s manned spaceflight ambitions, the International Space Station will fall short unless it sees larger crews, more science and a comprehensive plan to bolster future exploration efforts, according to a report released this week. See article.
g Learning - Students in a California home school and independent study program are learning not just from books and classroom teachers but also through interaction with scientists and other professionals via video conferencing. 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 - 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 article.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

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