Monday, February 06, 2006

Search for dwarf galaxies, evolution of social behaviors, myth of de-evolution

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - A team of astronomers from the University of Pittsburgh and the Universitäts-Sternwarte München in Munich, Germany, announced in a paper presented at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C., that their search for dwarf galaxies in fast-moving clouds of gas has yielded no results, leading them to suggest alternative avenues of research to find the supposedly "missing" galaxies. See
g Abodes - Travel with Aaron Gronstal on a drilling expedition in Chesapeake Bay, the site of a 35 million-year-old impact crater. This portion of his journal is part 3 of a 4-part series. See http://www.
g Life - One of the puzzling questions in the evolution of bees is how some species developed social behaviors. Arizona State University Life Sciences associate professor Gro Amdam thinks part of the answer can be traced back to bee reproductive traits. See http://www.
. For related story, see “Scientists Finally Figure Out How Bees Fly“ at
g Intelligence - Our ability to hear relies on a structure that got its start as a gill opening in fish, a new study reveals. See
g Message - Would anyone deliberately beam high-powered signals into space? Can we assume that extraterrestrial societies would broadcast in ways that would mark their location as plainly as a flag on a golf green? See http://www.
g Cosmicus - NASA is thinking about dropping methane-type propellants from its requirements for the Crew Exploration Vehicle program in favor of harder to handle, yet more dangerous hypergolic propellants like those used in the shuttle and other old-school systems. See
g Learning - Americans love science in their movies and TV shows, yet recent reports indicate we are losing our scientific dominance to the rest of the world. Can science-themed entertainment get Americans off the couch and into the lab? See
g Imagining - Some science fiction tales show aliens (and often humans) “de-evolving,” or undergoing some mutation that makes the lifeform the creature its species evolved from. This occurred in a “Star Trek: The next Generation” episode and a Theodore Sturgeon novella. By tracing the 30-million year history of variation in a gene found in plants such as tomatoes and tobacco, biologists at the University of California, San Diego have found new evidence to support an old idea - that some evolutionary changes are irreversible. Their study, published in an early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers new support for the idea that the loss of complex traits, like eyes, wings or in this case a reproductive mechanism, is often irreversible. See
g Aftermath - Book alert: The authentic discovery of extraterrestrial life would usher in a scientific revolution on par with Copernicus or Darwin, says Paul Davies in “Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life.” Just as these ideas sparked religious and philosophical controversy when they were first offered, so would proof of life arising away from Earth. With this brief book (160 pages, including two appendices and an index), Davies tries to get ahead of the curve and begin to sort out the metaphysical mess before it happens. Many science fiction writers have preceded him, of course, but here the matter is plainly put. This is a very good introduction to a compelling subject.