Thursday, December 15, 2005

Dog Star’s companion, future flight design and terraforming Mars

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 - For astronomers, it's always been a source of frustration that the nearest white-dwarf star is buried in the glow of the brightest star in the nighttime sky. This burned-out stellar remnant is a faint companion of the brilliant blue-white Dog Star, Sirius, located in the winter constellation Canis Major. See article.
g Abodes - Life on Earth may owe its existence to tiny microorganisms living in the oceans, but the effect of human-induced change on the vital services these microbes perform for the planet remains largely unstudied, says a report released last week by the American Academy of Microbiology, entitled “Marine Microbial Diversity: The Key to Earth's Habitability.” See article.
g Life - For the fourth year in a row, a team of scientists has traveled up into the Andes mountains in Bolivia to study the life forms - mostly microbes - that inhabit some of the highest lakes in the world. These high lakes offer researchers an opportunity to study life in an extreme environment on Earth that is in some ways like conditions on Mars. Astrobiology Magazine is posting the next in a series of log entries from the expedition leader, Nathalie Cabrol, on the eve of the team's ascent. See article. For related story, see “UC Santa Barbara Researcher Tapped By Europeans For Design Of Instrument To Test Soil On Mars”.
g Intelligence - An experience as simple as watching graphically violent or emotional scenes in a movie can induce enough stress to interfere with problem-solving abilities, new research at Ohio State University Medical Center suggests. A related study suggests a beta-blocker medication could promote the ability to think flexibly under stressful conditions, researchers say. See article.
g Message - Would anyone deliberately beam high-powered signals into space? Can we assume that extraterrestrial societies would broadcast in ways that would mark their location as plainly as a flag on a golf green? See article.
g Cosmicus - At the Astrobiology Science Conference on March 30, 2004, scientists and science fiction writers faced off in front of a packed audience to debate the promise and pitfalls of terraforming Mars. In part 1 of this 7-part series, Christopher McKay advocates making Mars habitable for Martians. See article. For related stories, see “New site features 'live' images from Mars” and “MIT Researchers Visit Mars On Earth”.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site courtesy of NASA: “Future Flight Design”. Written for grades 3-7, kids can design air transportation and aircraft systems.
g Imagining - Book alert: What would life on other planets look like? Forget the little green men, alien life is likely to be completely unrecognizable - we haven’t even discovered all the life on our own planet. The visionary “Evolving the Alien: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life,” by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart, offers some of the most radical but scientifically accurate thinking on the possibility of life on other planets ever conceived. Using broad principles of Earthly biology and expanding on them laterally, Cohen and Stewart examine what could be out there. Redefining our whole concept of what ‘life’ is, they ask whether aliens could live on the surface of a star, in the vacuum of space or beneath the ice of a frozen moon. And whether life could exist without carbon or DNA – or even without matter at all. They also look at ‘celebrity aliens’ from books and films – most of which are biologically impossible. Jack Cohen is an ‘alien consultant’ to many writers, advising what an alien could and couldn’t look like. (E.T. go home – you do not pass the test). But this book is as much about the latest discoveries in Earthly biology as well as life on other planets. It’s a serious yet entertaining science book. 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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