Sunday, December 11, 2005

Radio Free Mars, Clipper manned space vehicle and encoding memories

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 - Clues revealed by the recently sharpened view of the Hubble Space Telescope have allowed astronomers to map the location of invisible "dark matter" in unprecedented detail in two very young galaxy clusters. See article.
g Abodes - University of Iowa Space Physicist Don Gurnett and his colleagues report that a scientific instrument aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft is working perfectly and that its data have so far revealed that Mars' ionosphere - part of the upper atmosphere - is very lumpy and complex, and that the instrument can "see" hidden craters and thick layers of ice beneath the planet's surface. See article.
g Life - The most recent classification of all life on Earth includes three domains: Archaea, Bacteria (also called Eubacteria) and Eukarya, each of which contains a number of kingdoms. Most scientists today accept that at least the mitochondria (seen in nearly all eukaryotes) and chloroplasts (seen in all photosynthetic eukaryotes) descended from engulfed bacteria. Whether the nucleus resulted from such an endosymbiotic event remains hotly debated. Hyman Hartman, an evolutionary biologist at MIT, weighs in favor of the nucleus being an endosymbiont. "Let's put it this way," Hartman says. "It's obviously an interesting hypothesis but not the fashionable one. I'm trying to revive it and I think that I am at this time the foremost advocate for it." Hartman's latest attempt, a February 2002 paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also asks another question: Who engulfed whom? See article.
g Intelligence - Researchers working with rats have found the first solid evidence that still "sharp" older brains store and encode memories differently than younger brains. See article.
g Message - Searches for extraterrestrial intelligence are about to expand into new realms, thanks to new advances in technology — and new thinking. See article.
g Cosmicus - European governments tentatively have declined to take a role in Russia’s Clipper manned space vehicle project, saying Europe would not have control over the program and would be limited to being a small industrial contributor, according to European government officials. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat set of activities and games to help kids learn about Mars: Mars Funzone. See article.
g Imagining - Book alert: Get thee to a used bookstore if you haven’t read “Life Signs: The Biology of Star Trek,” by Susan and Robert Jenkins. The Jenkinses focus on the biological logic (or illogic) behind the alien ecologies in Star Trek — the original TV series and all of its sequels and movie spinoffs. The best parts are the biological bloopers, even though only a fan will truly appreciate them. For instance, how did the Klingons evolve forehead ridges between the original and the new series ... and why do all the planets look like California? The science in the book helps the authors hypothesize about how humanoid life might have evolved throughout the universe (panspermia revisited). They offer simple evolutionary theories to explain the various head shapes and behaviors of fictional alien species. See article.
g Aftermath - Some of the best discussion of the consequences of alien contact occurs in science fiction. Here’s a novel that ranks among the most important in that dialogue: Arthur C. Clark’s “Songs of a Distant Earth.” Look for it at your library or local used bookstore.

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