Sunday, November 13, 2005

Sun in 3-D, ET percolation theory and (de)evolution in school science

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 first spacecraft designed to capture 3-D "stereo" views of the sun and solar wind were shipped today from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., to NASA Goddard Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., for their next round of pre-launch tests. See article.
g Abodes - A common substance found in ordinary classroom chalk could hold the key to a puzzle of planetary proportions: the mysterious whereabouts of water on Mars. See article. Note: This article is from 2001. For related story, see "Dust storm in opposition".
g Life - A deep-voiced black-capped chickadee may wonder why other birds ignore it, but there may be a good reason behind the snub, says a University of Alberta study that looked into how the bird responds to calls. Researchers modified the black- capped chickadee calls, played those sounds back to the bird and observed how they reacted. They found that the chickadee relies on several acoustic features including pitch, order of the notes and rhythm of the call. See article.
g Intelligence - Neurons experience large-scale changes across their dendrites during learning, say neuroscientists at The University of Texas at Austin in a new study that highlights the important role that these cell regions may play in the processes of learning and memory. See article.
g Message - What if we approached the Fermi paradox — the absence of such extraterrestrial civilizations visiting Earth — using percolation theory? Geoffrey A. Landis explains.
g Cosmicus - In 30 years, a nuclear-powered space exploration mission to Neptune and its moons may begin to reveal some of our solar system’s most elusive secrets about the formation of its planets – and recently discovered ones that developed around other stars. See article.
g Learning - The latest chapter in the long and controversial history of evolution theory was written this week in the form of two votes. A Kansas Board of Education decision essentially brings supernatural explanations into biology classes. Meanwhile, residents of a town in Pennsylvania ousted school board members who tried to do the same. See article.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies and environments? Scour your used bookstore for Hal Clement’s "Mission of Gravity" (1953).
g Aftermath - The scientific discussion of the evolution of life in the universe raises some key philosophical and theological issues Will life and intelligence be found throughout the universe, or will it turn out to be exceedingly rare? Will intelligent life be capable of both rationality and moral agency? Will evolutionary biology determine its moral content or will it merely bequeath intelligent life with moral capacity, leaving moral content to be determined independently of biology? If moral agency evolves, will these species inevitably exhibit moral failure, or is our generic human experience of moral failure strictly the result of our particular evolution, leaving us to expect there to be other civilizations that are entirely benign? The discussion of these issues, though largely hypothetical, can offer insight into the theological and cultural implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence as well into a better understanding of the human condition. See article.

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