Friday, December 23, 2005

Galaxy’s center, ‘Life in the Universe’ and learning mathematics

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 - UCLA astronomers and colleagues have taken the first clear picture of the center of our Milky Way galaxy, including the area surrounding the supermassive black hole, using a new laser virtual star at the W.M. Keck observatory in Hawaii. "Everything is much clearer now," said Andrea Ghez, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, who headed the research team. "We used a laser to improve the telescope's vision - a spectacular breakthrough that will help us understand the black hole's environment and physics. It's like getting Lasik surgery for the eyes, and will revolutionize what we can do in astronomy." See article. For related story, see “Cassini's galactic aspirations”.
g Abodes - Glaciers, rivers and shifting tectonic plates have shaped mountains over millions of years, but earth scientists have struggled to understand the relative roles of these forces and the rates at which they work. Now, using a new technique, researchers at the University of Michigan, California Institute of Technology and Occidental College have documented how fast glaciers eroded the spectacular mountain topography of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. See article. For related stories, see “Surprise Geysers Erupt in Oklahoma" and “Ancient Glaciers Still Affect The Shape Of North America, Say Scientists”.
g Life - Book alert: The pioneering book “Life in the Universe,“ by Jeffrey Bennett, Seth Shostak, Bruce Jakosky, offers an exciting and rigorous introduction to a wide range of sciences, including astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, and cosmology. The book captures the reader's imagination by exploring fundamental pan-scientific questions, such as: "How did life begin on Earth?", "What are the most extreme forms of life currently known?", "How likely is life in our solar system and beyond?" and "What are the challenges of trying to colonize another planet?" The book motivates readers to develop an understanding of the nature and process of science through skillful writing and a wealth of features. An award-winning author and contributor team spanning the sciences ensures that coverage is complete, authoritative, and accessible. Interdisciplinary coverage and a wealth of exciting topics engage non-science students, introduce them to a range of sciences, and motivate them to explore the nature of science itself. See article.
g Intelligence - A brain chemical recently found to boost trust appears to work by reducing activity and weakening connections in fear-processing circuitry, a brain imaging study has discovered. Scans of the hormone oxytocin's effect on human brain function reveal that it quells the brain's fear hub, the amygdala, and its brainstem relay stations in response to fearful stimuli. The work suggests new approaches to treating disorders involving social fear, such as social phobia and autism. See article.
g Message - Here’s a neat interactive Web game where you analyze a signal from space, jut as would a SETI astronomer.
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 4 of this 7-part series, Greg Bear ponders the evolution of humans into Martians. See artice. For related story, see “Birthplace of famous Mars meteorite pinpointed”.
g Learning -
Knowing how a mathematical theory developed improves a pupil's understanding of it. This is the conclusion of Dutch researcher Iris van Gulik, who investigated how the history of mathematics can help pupils to learn this subject. See article.
g Imagining - The questions of what alien life will be like is a more than just an issue for science fiction enthusiasts. For those involved with the fledging science of astrobiology, this is a central issue: After all, if something is life “not as we know it,” how, in fact, would we know it to be life at all? See article.
g Aftermath - If SETI is successful in detecting an extraterrestrial civilization, it will raise the question of whether and how humanity should attempt to communicate with the other civilization. How should that decision be made? What should be the content of such a message? Who should decide? The same questions would apply to proposals that signals be sent in the absence of detection, in the hope that they might be detected by an extraterrestrial civilization. See article. Note: This paper was presented in October 1995.

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