Thursday, November 03, 2005

Mysterious radio waves, Titan up close and Martian dust

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 - Astronomers are closing in on proof that a supermassive black hole is the source of mysterious radio waves at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. See article.
g Abodes - Saturn's moon Titan is notable both because it is the largest moon in our solar system and because it is the only moon in the solar system with a significant atmosphere. Early this year, NASA's Cassini orbiter, currently orbiting Saturn, released the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, which descended through Titan's atmosphere and landed on the moon's surface. Recently, Chris McKay, a planetary research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, gave a public lecture, sponsored by the Planetary Society, in which he talked about the scientific results of the Cassini-Huygens mission. In this first of four parts, McKay discusses Titan's atmosphere. See article. For related stories, see "Cloudy Skies Storm Titan"; and "Iceball among snowballs".
g Life - We need a tricorder— the convenient, hand-held device featured on "Star Trek" that can detect life forms even from orbit. Unfortunately, we don't have a clue how a tricorder might work, since life forms don't seem to have any observable property that distinguishes them from inanimate matter. Furthermore, we lack a definition of life that can guide a search for life outside Earth. How can we find what we can't define? An answer may lie in the observation that life uses a small, discrete set of organic molecules as basic building blocks. On the surface of Europa and in the subsurface of Mars, we can search for alien but analogous patterns in the organics. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Intelligence - A new study suggests that changes in gastric physiology perform better than standard polygraph methods in distinguishing between lying and telling the truth. The University of Texas study demonstrates a clear link between the act of lying and a significant increase in gastric arrhythmia. See article.
g Message - Quote of the Day: "This time is unique in our history, in any civilization's history: the moment of the acquisition of technology. The moment when contact becomes possible." — Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), "Contact"
g Cosmicus - According to a NASA report that evaluates the risks of sending a manned mission to Mars, Martian dust poses as one of the biggest potential problems. See article.
g Learning - The world's oldest observatory, dating back about 4,100 years has been discovered in North China's Shanxi Province, Chinese archaeologists have announced. See article.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for Clifford Simak’s "Way Station" (1963), which examines many different kinds of potential aliens.
g Aftermath - If we establish communication with a civilization even as close as 100 light years from Earth, the round-trip time for a message and its reply is 200 years. What will be the psychology of a civilization that can engage in a meaningful conversation with this sort of delay? How is such a conversation to be established? What should the content of such a conversation be? These are the questions which motivate our title: "Minds and Millennia: The Psychology of Interstellar Communication".

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