Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Methane-producing organisms, singing mice and mission to Venus

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 - Barnard's Star, an old and very dim red dwarf, was once thought to have two Jupiter-class planets. For a primer on the second closest star system to Earth, see article.
g Abodes - Evidence of methane-producing organisms can be found in inhospitable soil environments much like those found on the surface of Mars, according to experiments undertaken by scientists and students from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and the University of Arkansas and published online in the journal Icarus. See article.
g Life - Scientists have known for decades that female lab mice or their pheromones cause male lab mice to make ultrasonic vocalizations. But a new paper from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis establishes for the first time that the utterances of the male mice are songs. This finding adds mice to the roster of creatures that croon in the presence of the opposite sex, including songbirds, whales and some insects. See article.
g Intelligence - Anger is good for you, as long as you keep it below a boil, according to new psychology research based on face reading. See article.
g Message - The Earth is at the center of an expanding bubble of electromagnetic radiation. The bubble, expanding at the speed of light, contains all of the man-made electromagnetic transmissions of the earth - radio, TV, radar, and so on. In theory, an alien civilization could receive these signals, and form their opinion about the earth by analyzing them. To most people, it is quite discouraging to think that some alien civilization would form their opinion of Earth based upon our situation comedies. Upon a slightly deeper analysis, the conventional wisdom says, "Aliens might detect our TV signals, but at least they can't form their opinion of our civilization from our TV transmissions. Decoding the transmission is so much harder than detecting it that we don't need to worry about this." But an editor of the book "SETI 2020" argues that this view considerably underestimates the technologies that aliens might employ. By looking at likely technical improvements - better receivers and feeds, bigger antenna, signal processing, and perhaps stellar focusing, any civilization that can detect our radiations might well be able to decode it as well. Thus aliens can form their impression of Earth from "I Love Lucy." See article.
g Cosmicus - A robotic space probe to examine the mysteries of Venus, the closest planet to Earth, will embark on its mission at 0333 GMT (7:33 p.m. PST) Tuesday night. The European Space Agency's Venus Express is nestled aboard its Russian Soyuz-Fregat rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan where countdown activities are in full swing. See article. For additional story, see "Explore Venus tonight".
g Learning - Quote of the Day: "One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike - and yet it is the most precious thing we have." — Albert Einstein
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Vonda N. McIntyre’s "The Starfarers Series": "Starfarers" (1989), "Transition" (1990), "Metaphase" (1992) and "Nautilus" (1994). In the series, a ship staffed by an international crew goes out to contact alien life. It eventually discovers dying squidmoth, which leads them into further contacts.
g Aftermath- The next social science to be created might be "exopsychology" — the study of behavior, attitudes, personalities and thoughts of alien beings. Although necessarily speculative, exopsychology might eventually be a critical link between humans and aliens. In the meantime, such a study could also provide the additional benefit of informing us about earthbound prejudices. See article.

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