Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Kick in universe expansion, working memory and New Horizons

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 - The orbiting Chandra X-ray telescope has shown that the expansion of the universe received a kick midway through its life, about six billion years ago. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Abodes - Ocean temperatures might have risen even higher during the last century if it weren't for volcanoes that spewed ashes and aerosols into the upper atmosphere, researchers have found. The eruptions also offset a large percentage of sea level rise caused by human activity. See article.
g Life - Scientists at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Plant Biology have found that photosynthetic bacteria living in scalding Yellowstone hot springs have two radically different metabolic identities. As the sun goes down, these cells quit their day job of photosynthesis and unexpectedly begin to fix nitrogen, converting nitrogen gas (N2) into compounds that are useful for cell growth. The study is the first to document an organism that can juggle both metabolic tasks within a single cell at high temperatures, and also helps answer longstanding questions about how hot-spring microbial communities get essential nitrogen compounds. See article.
g Intelligence - The ability to retain memory about the details of a natural scene is unaffected by the distraction of another activity and this information is retained in "working memory" according to a study recently published in Journal of Vision, an online, free access publication of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. These results reinforce the notion that humans maintain useful information about previous fixations in long-term working memory rather than the limited capacity of visual short-term memory. See article.
g Message - OhmyNews recently interviewed Peter Backus, observing programs manager in the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute, located in Mountain View, Calif. Here’s a transcript of the interview.
g Cosmicus - As the New Horizons mission to Pluto prepared for launch in January, NASA presented a webcast in which scientists answered questions from the public. In this edited transcript, David Kusnierkiewicz, mission systems engineer for New Horizons, talks about the technology that will take the spacecraft to Pluto and beyond. See article.
g Learning - What is the joy of stargazing? See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read John DeChancie’s short story "The Seepage Factor," anthologized in “First Contact” (edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff, published by DAW in 1997).
g Aftermath - Astronomers are searching hard for that first interstellar phone-call from ET. But when it happens, how will we react? Will it be a major trauma for humankind, or a new beginning? See article.

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