Thursday, November 10, 2005

Wolfe 359, understanding Titan and chimp vocabulary

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 extremely faint star Wolf 359 is the third closest star system to Sol after Alpha Centauri 3 and Barnard's Star. Here’s a primer on it.
g Abodes - Earth, Mars and Venus all have greenhouse effects. So does Saturn's giant moon Titan. But unlike any other world in our solar system, Titan also has an anti-greenhouse effect. 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 to Saturn and Titan. In this, the third in a four-part series, McKay explains why Titan's greenhouse effect is unique and how its anti-greenhouse effect works. See article. For related stories, see "Naming new lands on Titan" and "Titan’s ultraviolet haze".
g Life - Bees have a much more sophisticated visual system than previously thought, according to a new University College London study in which bees were able to solve complicated color puzzles. The findings shed light on how brains resolve one of the most difficult challenges of vision namely, recognizing different surfaces under different colors of illumination by suggesting that bees solve this problem using their experience with meaningful color relationships between objects in a scene. The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may one day lead to the design of autonomous robotic systems. See article.
g Intelligence - For some time now, primatologists have paid more attention to the hands of chimps than their mouths. The sounds made by chimpanzees seemed to be little more than emotional outbursts without much meaning or intention. But scientists now are struck by the rich vocabulary of gestures chimpanzees use. See article.
g Message - Using a conservative approach to interstellar travel that intelligent extraterrestrials may be present in our solar system, living in world ships that have colonized cometary or asteroidal objects during the last billion years. The originating star systems for these advanced beings could be solar-type stars that fortuitously approach our Sun within a light year or so at intervals of about a million years or nearby stars that have left the main sequence, prompting interstellar migration. If we are indeed within such a "Dyson Sphere" of artificial worldlets, we could detect their presence through astronomical means since a space habitat will emit more infrared radiation than a like-sized comet or asteroid. See article. For related story, see "Sky trek to the ‘near space’ neighborhood".
g Cosmicus - Careful engineering and cost analysis shows we can build pleasant, self-sufficient dwelling places in space within the next two decades, solving many of Earth's problems. See article. Note: This article is from 1974. That’s right, 1974. Oh, how little we’ve come.
g Learning - There’s some good news and some bad news this morning: Our children suffered a victory in Pennsylvania but a defeat in Kansas on Tuesday. See article.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien anthropology/cultures? Be sure to scour your favorite used bookstores for C.J. Cherryh’s series "The Foreigner Universe," which includes "Foreigner" (1994), "Invader" (1995) and "Inheritor" (1996). The series traces our dealings with the proud Atevi from first contact, as the single ambassador they will allow on planet tries to prevent war.
g Aftermath - If we do make contact with extraterrestrials, they’ll probably be a Type II or III Kardashev civilization. What’s a Kardashev civilization? See article. For related story on the Kardashev scale, click here.

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