Monday, November 28, 2005

Water on ancient Mars, bacterial photographs and new commercial spaceport

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 - Two international teams of astronomers have observed with unprecedented detail the environment of two stars. One is a young, still-forming star and the new results provide useful information on the conditions leading to the creation of planets. The other is on the contrary a star entering the latest stages of its life. The astronomers found, in both cases, evidence for a surrounding disc. See article.
g Abodes - Substantial quantities of liquid water must have been present in the early history of Mars. The findings of OMEGA, aboard Mars Express, have implications on Mars' climatic history and the question of its 'habitability' at some point in its history. See article. For related stories, see “NASA Rover Helps Reveal Possible Secrets of Martian Life”.
g Life - Using Petri dishes full of genetically engineered E. coli instead of photo paper, students at The University of Texas at Austin and UCSF successfully created the first-ever bacterial photographs. Their work is published in this Nov. 24 issue of Nature, which is devoted entirely to the emerging field of synthetic biology. See article.
g Intelligence - During the course of human evolution, our ancestors eventually grasped the abstract concept of counting nothing, or '”zero.” Is this a unique component of human intelligence? Or does one of the most sophisticated abstractions discovered yet among animals tell us anything about the evolution of intelligence, on Earth or elsewhere? See article.
g Message - As SETI researchers are quick and keen to point out, the Allen Telescope Array, currently under construction about 200 miles northeast of San Francisco, is the first professional radio telescope designed from the get-go to speedily search for extraterrestrial signals. When completed, it will comprise 350 antennas, spread over roughly 150 acres of lava-riven real estate. See article.
g Cosmicus - NASA has decided that its next launch vehicle for getting humans into space will be based on the space shuttle system, including its main engines, solid rocket boosters and external tank. There will be one big difference, though, instead of riding along the side of the new rocket, astronauts in the future will be riding on top on top of their next launcher - above any debris that might fall off. See article.
g Learning - Meet SETI Institute Principal Investigator Emma Bakes. See article.
g Imagining - A complaint lodged again and again against science fiction aliens is that they look too much like us. Is that complaint valid? Is it so unlikely that extraterrestrials would look at least similar (though not identical) to humans? If so, then what would beings, intelligent or not so intelligent, who evolved on another world look like? That's what Cliff Pickover explores in The Science of Aliens.Though the book is a few years old, it’s still worth reading. Here’s a review.
g Aftermath - Scientists and governments are vigorously searching for signs of life in the universe. Will their efforts meet with success? Award-winning author Paul Davies, an eminent scientist who writes like a science fiction novelist, explores the ramifications of that success in his fascinating book, “Are We Alone? Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life.” "The discovery of a single extraterrestrial microbe," he writes, "would drastically alter our world view and change our society as profoundly as the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions. It could truly be described as the greatest scientific discovery of all time." Though a decade old, the book still is a great read. See review.

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