Thursday, December 22, 2005

Pulsar’s tail, cryptids and talking to chimps via computer

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 have uncovered a new feature in one of the closest pulsars to Earth, the Geminga pulsar. Plowing through space, this dense nugget of a dead star leaves in its wake a comet-like trail of high-energy electrons. See article.
g Abodes - A region of Mars that some planetary scientists believe was once a shallow lakebed and likely habitable for life may not have been so wet after all, according to a new University of Colorado at Boulder study. See article.
g Life - The first photograph of a live giant squid, taken recently, is one of many instances of cryptids - animals only rumored to exist - turning out to be real. See article.
g Intelligence - Among the experiments being conducted at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo is long-term research on using computers to talk to the animals. The idea is to get the apes to learn to use computer programs to communicate preferences on food, activity and living space. More broadly the work should add to the scientific literature on how and to what extent apes are able to think and perceive the world. See article.
g Message - Estimating the frequency for communicating with an extrasolar civilization is a multi-dimensional challenge. The answer, according to two scientists at the Hungarian Astronomical Association, is less like an equation, and more like a matrix. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Cosmicus - A private space firm with orbital aspirations has revamped its plans for a crew-carrying spacecraft. See article.
g Learning - Why has FOX News not covered this story? A college professor who drew sharp criticism for comments deriding Christian fundamentalists over "intelligent design" said he was forced out as chairman of the university's religious studies department. See article.
g Imagining - As long as there has been science, science fiction has existed. The secrets of the universe remain a mystery to us, but that doesn’t stop us from making guesses. An author who writes a science fiction novel tries to base it around the technology and knowledge that we have available to us. Those tidbits of knowledge are then exaggerated to great lengths, and then set into the future, on other planets, in other dimensions in time, or under new variants of scientific law. This process is called extrapolation, and becomes the premise of the story. Here’s a Web page that works in reverse, by taking the scientific aspects from classic works of science fiction and explaining how they relate to Astrobiology.
g Aftermath - The issue of stability of conditions prevailing on (at least potentially) habitable planets throughout the Galaxy is the central question of the nascent science of astrobiology. We are lucky enough to live in an epoch of great astronomical discoveries, the most distinguished probably being the discovery of dozens of planets orbiting nearby stars. This particular discovery brings about a profound change in our thinking about the universe, and prompts further questions on thefrequency of Earth-like habitats elsewhere in the galaxy. In a sense, it answers a question posed since antiquity: are there other, potentially inhabited or inhabitable, worlds in the vastness of space? In asking that question, obviously, we take into account our properties as intelligent observers, as well as physical, chemical, and other pre-conditions necessary for our existence. The latter are the topic of the so-called anthropic principle(s), the subject of much debate and controversy in cosmology, fundamental physics, and philosophy of science. See article.

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