Tuesday, February 07, 2006

From interstellar gases to Earth, Mars Scout and wired for empathy

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 - Where do elements, such as iron in our blood or calcium in our bones, come from? Astronomers say they come from thermonuclear reactions in hundreds of millions of stars that burn at high temperatures in our galaxy. Stars that are 10 or more times more massive than the sun eventually explode as supernovas, leaving traces of elements in the space between the stars of the Milky Way. When our solar system was created, astronomers say the trace elements were drawn from interstellar gases to form the Earth. See article.
g Abodes - A bold, new robotic mission to Mars proposes to make the first exploration of subsurface water ice in a potentially habitable zone. THOR, a low-cost mission designed for NASA's Mars Scout program, aims to send a projectile at high speed into the Martian surface while observing the impact and its aftermath. The mission is led by Arizona State University in Tempe, in partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. See article.
g Life - Plants in some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth don't have enough birds and bees to allow them to fruit to their full potential, a new study finds. It is not clear, however, whether the less-than-perfect pollination is new or if it's the sort of challenge some plants have always faced. See article.
g Intelligence - Researchers have provided the first biologic evidence supporting the idea that people empathize with likeable people in painful situations, and feel satisfaction when someone they dislike suffers. See article.
g Message - Can aliens find us? With a really nice pair of binoculars, the Great Wall of China (not to mention less romantic constructions, such as interstate highways) does become visible from orbit. Any curious aliens that made it to within a few hundred miles of Earth would have no trouble seeing the artifacts of our civilization. They would know, without doubt, that technologically competent beings roamed our world. But how visible are we to aliens that are farther away? See article. Here’s the follow-up to the article from 2003.
g Cosmicus - By sharply reducing the growth of space science and other NASA programs over the next five years, NASA managers hope to erase a projected multi-billion dollar shortfall in the shuttle budget, permitting up to 17 missions between now and the program's retirement in 2010, including a possible flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Only two flights are expected this year, one in May and the other late this summer, as NASA struggles to complete its recovery from the Columbia disaster and finish a major overhaul of the shuttle Endeavour. See article.
g Learning - Book alert: Sure, you’ve heard of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. But do you really know what it means? And even if you do there’s a lot more to be learned about this eccentric genius. Did you know he worked to develop hearing aids? Or that a student actually spotted a mistake in one of his papers? And you’ll never guess what happed to Einstein’s brain after he died. Find out in “101 Things You Didn't Know About Einstein: Sex, Science, And the Secrets of the Universe,” by Cynthia Phillips and Shana Priwer. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Jayge Carr’s "The Wonderous Works of His Hands," anthologized in “Alien Encounters” (edited by Jan Finder).
g Aftermath - What happens if we detect an extraterrestrial signal? Here’s text from congressional testimony outlining what would happen. See article. Note: This article is from 2001.

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