Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Sol’s beneficial orbit, Fermi Paradox and ‘visions’ of space aliens

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - One of Sol's unusual features is its orbit around the center of the galaxy, which is significantly less elliptical ("eccentric") than those of other stars similar in age (and therefore metallicity) and type and is barely inclined relative to the Galactic plane. This circularity in Sol's orbit prevents it from plunging into the inner Galaxy where life-threatening supernovae are more common. Moreover, the small inclination to the galactic plane avoids abrupt crossings of the plane that would stir up Sol's Oort Cloud and bombard the Earth with life-threatening comets. See article.
g Abodes - Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research have created a computer simulation showing Earth's climate in unprecedented detail at the time of the greatest mass extinction in the planet's history. The work gives support to a theory that an abrupt and dramatic rise in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide triggered the massive die-off 251 million years ago. The research appears in the September issue of Geology. See http://www.astrobio.
g Life - The ubiquitous bacteria E. coli rank among nature's most successful species for lots of reasons, to which biologists at the University of Southern California have added another: In a pinch, E. coli can feast on the DNA of their dead competitors. See http://
g Intelligence - A few simple but important steps that have led to the manufacture of radio telescopes. In human evolution, the development of facilities and fire was critical in the establishment of a metal technology. Adequate resources derived from agriculture were essential for the development of advanced technology. At all stages, the ratio of cost to reward had to be small and the technological development had to follow an appropriate cultural preadaptation. Play would unquestionably have been important in technological innovation. The history of toys has yet to be written, but it may be a key to an understanding of the progressive development of human technology. See http://history.nasa.gov/CP-2156/ch4.4.htm.
g Message - Here’s a quick, easy to understand primer to SETI’s radio searches and the Fermi Paradox: http://shayol.bartol.udel.edu/~rhdt/diploma/lecture_12/.
g Cosmicus - Researchers in Switzerland have succeeded in breaking the cosmic speed limit by getting light to go faster than, well, light. See http://www.livescience.com/technology/050819_fastlight.html. Note: This article is from 2005.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom resource courtesy of NASA: “Life on Earth … and Elsewhere?” This booklet contains five classroom activities for grades 5-10 spanning topics from "Defining Life," to "Determining the Chances of Extraterrestrial Life." See http://www.erg.pdf/.
g Imagining - Psychologist Frederick Malmstrom, currently a visiting scholar at the U.S. Air Force Academy, believes that “visions” of space aliens are actually the image of the prototypical female face that is hardwired into every baby human's brain. When Malmstrom altered a picture of a woman in a way consistent with the characteristics of a newborn's vision (astigmatism and a shallow focal plane), the result looked very much like a big-eyed alien. See article.
g Aftermath - Donald E. Tarter, a consultant in space policy and technology assessment, makes a persuasive case for developing the protocols and technology to reply to an extraterrestrial signal before news of the discovery is made public, in his article, “Advocating an Immediate Response.” Delay could be costly as technologically advanced fringe groups or ambitious nations could attempt to score a propaganda victory by being the first to reply, creating a mixed and perhaps embarrassing first message. This could be avoided by settling on a quick and simple message to let the extraterrestrial source know that we had received their message. See http://seti.planetary.org/Contact/ImmediateResponse.html. Note: This report is from 1996.