Monday, December 05, 2005

Black hole’s influence, harsh Martian environment and ancient water scorpion tracks

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 - Scientists using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have discovered evidence of energetic plumes - particles that extend 300,000 light years into a massive cluster of galaxies. The plumes are due to explosive venting from the vicinity of a supermassive black hole, and they provide dramatic new evidence of the influence a black hole can have over intergalactic distances. See article.
g Abodes - Life may have had a tough time getting started in the ancient environment that left its mark in the Martian rock layers examined by NASA's Opportunity rover. The most thorough analysis yet of the rover's discoveries reveals the challenges life may have faced in the harsh Martian environment. See article.
g Life - Tracks found in Scotland look to be from an ancient water scorpion as big as a kitchen table. If the analysis is right, it is the first evidence of the creature coming ashore. See article.
g Intelligence - Research is showing the power of expectations, that they have physical - not just psychological - effects on your health. Scientists can measure the resulting changes in the brain, from the release of natural painkilling chemicals to alterations in how neurons fire. See article.
g Message - Among the most important SETI work is being done at Harvard University. The Harvard SETI home page is here and discusses the Radio Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, The Arecibo Search for Early Hydrogen and Optical SETI.
g Cosmicus - European Space Agency government ministers will be asked to approve a diverse package of space-hardware programs worth a total of 9.05 billion euros ($10.6 billion) when they meet today in Berlin. See article.
g Learning - Here’s something cut for the kids: U.S. Navy Capt. Michael Foreman, set to fly to the International Space Station aboard NASA’s STS-120 shuttle flight, will appear in the television program “Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls” to assist in transforming a typical 10-year-old New Jersey boy’s bedroom into a Martian landscape. See article.
g Imagining - There are several species in the Star Trek universe that look exactly like humans. The unlikely fact that life on different planets has taken a similar, if not the same direction was sufficiently explained in The Next Generation episode "The Chase." In this key episode to the Star Trek universe, Captain Picard's crew finds evidence that four billion years ago the first human civilization explored our galaxy, and they were disappointed because they found themselves alone. To preserve their heritage, they spread encoded DNA fragments across many Class-M planets throughout the galaxy, thereby triggering a development similar to their own. Aside from the evolution schedule the DNA fragments, correctly assembled, contain a message to their descendants, namely humans, Klingons, Cardassians, Romulans and all the other humanoid races of the galaxy that are in some way related to each other. As fascinating is this theory, a couple of problems remain. See article.
g Aftermath - Book alert: As many Earthlings already know —including more than 2 million computer users with firsthand experience — our best hope for finding extraterrestrial intelligence might just lie with an ingenious little screensaver. So it's not surprising that “Beyond Contact: A Guide to SETI and Communicating with Alien Civilizations” (by Brian S. McConnell), an introduction to searching for and communicating with intelligent life, begins with some of the details behind UC Berkeley's groundbreaking, massively distributed SETI@home project, which processes intergalactic noise for pennies on the teraflop. But that's just the start of the story. Inventor and software developer Brian McConnell continues with an overview of whether and why we might find something out there, who's doing what to look for it (including the folks at Berkeley), and — once some ET picks up on the other end — what we might say and how we might say it. This last problem, which occupies the final half of the book, proves to be the most thought provoking, and McConnell has put together a methodical, nuts-and-bolts walkthrough of both the challenges involved and how binary code might be enlisted to solve them. See reviews.

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