Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Snowless Earth, Russia’s plans for manned spaceflight and Robin Whirlybird

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 - Astronomers have discovered an unusual small body orbiting the Sun beyond Neptune, in the region astronomers call the Kuiper belt. This new object is twice as far from the Sun as Neptune and is roughly half the size of Pluto. The body, temporarily code-named "Buffy", has a highly unusual orbit which is difficult to explain using previous theories of the formation of the outer Solar System. See article.
g Abodes - What would the Earth be like if one fine day all the snow melted away? See article. For related story, see “Alaska's Columbia Glacier Continues On Disintegration Course”.
g Life - A catlike creature photographed by camera traps on Borneo Island is likely to be a new species of carnivore, the World Wildlife Fund announced earlier this month. See article.
g Intelligence - Thick-skinned bottle gourds widely used as containers by prehistoric peoples were likely brought to the Americas some 10,000 years ago by individuals who arrived from Asia, according to a new genetic comparison of modern bottle gourds with gourds found at archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere. The finding solves a longstanding archaeological enigma by explaining how a domesticated variant of a species native to Africa ended up millennia ago in places as far removed as modern-day Florida, Kentucky, Mexico and Peru. See article.
g Message - Most SETI programs scan the sky looking for strong radio signals. Any signals that are deemed interesting are put on a list for follow-up observations weeks, months — even years later. Long delays in verification of potential ET signals sometimes generate tantalizing, but ultimately frustrating, stories. See article. Note: This article is from March 2003.
g Cosmicus - As NASA prepares to once again send humans to the surface of the Moon, Russia is also developing its own plans for future manned spaceflight. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site, courtesy of NASA: “Robin Whirlybird”. For grades K-4, it helps kids learn about rotorcraft in an interactive storybook. It’s available in Spanish at the same site.
g Imagining - Alien design bibliography: When science fiction writers set out to design a world, they usually take care that their physics and astronomy conforms to known science by reading a few physics and astronomy books. But when designing aliens, anything goes, it seems! The problem appears to be that the literature of biology is simply unknown in the SF world. Mention Freeman Dyson or Robert Forward, and most hard SF readers and writers will know whom you are talking about. But mention Steven Vogel or Colin Pennycuick, and you are likely to be rewarded with polite bafflement. Here’s a list of books that’ll give you a solid grounding in biology. See article.
g Aftermath - Even if the public seems less than awestruck by the prospect that alien life is a bunch of microscopic bugs, astrobiologists say unequivocal discovery of microbial life beyond Earth will change human society in profound ways, some unfathomable today. See article. Note: This article is from 2001.

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