Thursday, January 05, 2006

New Horizons, ‘Space Cadets’ and bigger than evolution

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 - As the first student-built instrument ever selected to fly on a planetary mission, the University of Colorado at Boulder's Student Dust Counter will monitor the density of dust grains in space as NASA's New Horizons buzzes to Pluto and beyond. Launch is set for mid-January. See article.
g Abodes - Using refined techniques to study rocks, researchers at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism found that Earth's mantle separated into chemically distinct layers faster and earlier than previously believed - within 30 million years of the solar system's formation, instead of occurring gradually over more than 4 billion years, as the standard model suggests. The new work was recognized by Science magazine, in its December 23 issue, as one of the science breakthroughs for 2005. See article.
g Life - Book alert: The question of whether we are alone in the universe is one that has fascinated humankind since early times. But, as Carl Sagan once said, "The search for extraterrestrial life must begin with the question of what we mean by life." Astrobiologists today focus on the origins of the earliest and simplest life forms, bacteria and other single-celled organisms. Using Earth as a prototypical environment, they and other scientists tackle the question of life in the universe. Beginning with the Big Bang and formation of the universe, this richly illustrated book discusses the emergence of life on Earth and beyond. Monica Grady in “Astrobiology” discusses the factors necessary for the development of microorganisms on Earth, including chemical building blocks like carbon and water as well as an atmosphere that protects from ultraviolet radiation. She considers the possibility of life on other planets in the solar system, describing the conditions and diverse habitats that make Mars as well as some of Jupiter's and Saturn's moons ideal candidates for research. In a final chapter she looks beyond the solar system, searching for Earth-like planets or dusty disks of preplanetary material surrounding stars. See article.
g Intelligence - Scientists funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders one of the National Institutes of Health, are a step closer to unraveling the mystery of taste. In a study published in the Dec. 2 issue of Science, researchers have pinpointed the chemical responsible for transmitting signals from the taste buds — small sensory bumps on the tongue, throat, and roof of the mouth — to the taste nerves leading to the brain. Today’s findings provide scientists with a more complete picture of this complicated process, helping advance the study of taste and taste disorders. See article.
g Message - When scientists get together to talk about extraterrestrial life, they certainly don't imagine little green men. In fact, our first contact with life beyond our planet probably will involve a microbe. See article. Note: This article is from 2001.
g Cosmicus - Space-travelers face a topsy-turvy world where up and down is nowhere to be found. Sensors in your inner ear signal to the brain not only that you’re not in Kansas anymore but also the familiar tug of Earth’s one-gravity is missing. See article.
g Learning - It is all set to be the thrill of a lifetime. A group of intrepid adventurers, having fought off dozens of other hopefuls, will head into space for a five-day voyage, to be watched and envied by millions. Except they won't. “Space Cadets,” which hits British television screens this month, is the latest ambitious experiment in “reality TV.” The show's organizers have rigged a Hollywood space shuttle set with all the sights, sounds and shakes of a genuine space flight. But, unbeknownst to the participants, the craft will never leave the ground. See article.
g Imagining - Like stories about alien biologies and environments? Scour your used bookstores for Stanley Weinbaum’s “The Best of ...” (1974). The volume contains some of first friendly aliens in science fiction.
g Aftermath - Clearly, if we are not alone in the universe, there are some unavoidable theological and philosophical consequences. We should reflect on the consequences of a positive result of either finding extraterrestrial microorganisms, or receiving a radio message form an extraterrestrial source: When such discovery occurs, the implications are likely to have an impact on our culture requiring adjustments possibly more radical than those arising form the evidence that humans descend from microorganisms. See article.

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