Saturday, November 05, 2005

Pillars of Creation, Titan’s clouds and alien biologies and environments

Welcome! First-time visitors may want to read the Jan. 1 entry to gain a better understanding of the blog's format.
g Stars - Hubble's iconic images include many shots of cosmic clouds of gas and dust called nebulae. For example, the famous "Pillars of Creation" mark the birthplace of new stars within the Eagle Nebula. Yet despite their beauty, visible-light images show only the nebulae surfaces. Baby stars may hide beneath, invisible even to Hubble's powerful gaze. See
g Abodes - There is only one moon in our solar system that has clouds, Saturn's giant moon Titan. First discovered by a scientist using an earthbound telescope, the clouds were later confirmed by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, recently gave a public lecture, sponsored by the Planetary Society, about what scientists have learned about Titan from the Cassini-Huygens mission. In this, the second part in a four-part series, McKay talks about Titan's mysterious clouds, some of which are thought to appear only briefly every 15 years. See
. For related stories, see "Radaring Titan" at

and "Dione’s Canyonlands" at
g Life - Researchers from Imperial College London believe that when species become asexual they could be on their way to extinction. The research, published in PLoS Pathogens, looks at the genetic structure of Penicillium marneffei, an asexual fungus. The researchers found that although P. marneffei spores were able to spread over large distances on currents of air, they were not able to 'invade' the new environments in which they landed. See
g Intelligence - Simple writing done in the easy-to-read font tended to be rated as coming from a more intelligent author than the more complex drafts. See
g Message - Quote of the Day: "To consider the Earth the only populated world in infinite space is as absurd as to assert that in an entire field sown with millet only one grain will grow." – Metrodorus
g Cosmicus - Work towards realizing space tourism has moved forward a lot in the last few years. Until recently only a few research papers had been published over the previous decade, and largely ignored. Recently however the number of publications and degree of media interest in the subject has increased greatly, and work is now advancing in many directions. See
g Learning - A Vatican cardinal said Thursday the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism'' if it ignores scientific reason. See
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies/environments? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for any of these fine novels by James White: "Hospital Station" (1962), "Star Surgeon" (1963), "Ambulance Ship" (1979), "Sector General" (1983) and "Code Blue–Emergency" (1987).
g Aftermath - If we find other civilizations, what will we say to them? Crafting a message that represents Earth and humanity and can be understood by another life form is no minor endeavor. SETI Institute psychologist Douglas Vakoch has been charged with this formidable task, and has enlisted the help of mathematicians, artists, astronomers and anthropologists. Hear the messages he helped compose and learn about the thinking behind them at