Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Merging galaxies, honeybee decision-making and ‘Consequences of Success in SETI’

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - A pair of dancing galaxies appears dressed for a cosmic masquerade in a new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The infrared picture shows what looks like two icy blue eyes staring through an elaborate, swirling red mask. These "eyes" are actually the cores of two merging galaxies, which recently met and began to twirl around each other. See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/
g Abodes - It's becoming harder to find the right snow to build an igloo, and melting permafrost is turning land into mud. With climate change the nature of the Arctic is changing, too, in ways that worry the people who live there. See http://www.livescience.com/environ
g Life - When 10,000 honeybees fly the coop to hunt for a new home, usually a tree cavity, they have a unique method of deciding which site is right: With great efficiency they narrow down the options and minimize bad decisions. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.
g Intelligence - Given the chance, most people will punish moochers with "freeloader fines," even if it means taking a financial hit themselves, a new study finds. See http://www.livescience.com/
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.space.com/searchforlife/shostak_quantum_030522.html.
g Cosmicus - In order for people to be able to travel economically to space, for space tourism and for other purposes, we need reusable launch vehicles. All commercial transport industries use reusable vehicles - and so will the commercial space transport industry. Luckily research aimed at developing low-cost reusable launch vehicles has increased recently - though total funding is still barely 2 percent (!) of government funding for space activities. See http://www.spacefuture.com/vehicles/designs.shtml.
g Learning - Here’s a cool set of classroom lessons courtesy of NASA: Astroventure, in which students search for and design a habitable planet. See http://astroventure.arc.nasa.gov/.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Theodore Sturgeon’s short story, "The Hurkle is a Happy Beast," published in the Fall 1949 F&SF magazine.
g Aftermath - Here’s another “old” piece worth reading: “Consequences of Success in SETI: Lessons from the History of Science,” given during a Bioastronomy Symposium in 1993. See http://www.nidsci.org/articles/steve_dick.php.