Monday, December 19, 2005

Cosmic gamma ray bursts, shifting North Pole, Personal Satellite Assistant

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 - Cosmic gamma ray bursts, the most powerful explosions in the universe, have the extreme brilliance of a billion billion Suns and occur several times a day. But they are not all created equal. Astronomers have known that two types exist — long ones that last for tens or hundreds of seconds, and short bursts, which last a few milliseconds to a second. The origin of the short bursts has been shrouded in mystery, until now. See article.
g Abodes - After some 400 years of relative stability, Earth's North Magnetic Pole has moved nearly 1,100 kilometers out into the Arctic Ocean during the last century and at its present rate could move from northern Canada to Siberia within the next half-century. See article.
g Life - Bacteria feel pressures to evolve antibiotic resistance and other new abilities in response to a changing environment, and they react by “stealing” genetic information from other better-adapted types of bacteria, according to research published in Nature Genetics. See article.
g Intelligence - In an important new study from the Quarterly Review of Biology, biologists from Binghamton University explore the evolution of two distinct types of laughter - laughter which is stimulus-driven and laughter which is self-generated and strategic. See article.
g Message - Here’s a classic I stumbled across online: Carl Sagan’s 1978 article “The Quest for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” Few other pieces so eloquently capture the essential, human purpose behind astrobiology and SETI. See article.
g Cosmicus - At the Astrobiology Science Conference last year, scientists and science fiction writers faced off in front of a packed audience to debate the promise and pitfalls of terraforming Mars. In part 2 of this 7-part series, John Rummel predicts that in our search for life on Mars, we probably won't find cows. See article. Here’s a bonus for you: A gallery of images depicting what Mars would like as a waterworld.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site, courtesy of NASA: “Personal Satellite Assistant”. For grades 5-8, it helps students explore math and physics with a robotic helper.
g Imagining - Book alert: In our current cultural fascination with the idea of alien beings from other worlds, most of it hokey at best and just plain wrong at worst, there is a definite need for some popular-level literature which helps to sort the rational wheat from the pseudoscience and Hollywood chaff. SETI scientist Seth Shostak wrote such a book, “Sharing the Universe,” in 1998. Shostak gives a comprehensive and most readable survey of what we do (and especially do not) know about life beyond the planet Earth, and how we are going about searching for our fellow inhabitants of the universe. See article.
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 here.

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