Friday, June 23, 2006

Glowing neutron stars, good odds at million-to-one and brain filters

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. You may notice that this and future entries are shorter than usual; Career, family and book deal commitments have forced me to cut back some of my projects. Now, here’s today’s news:
g Stars - Dense stellar corpses doomed to roam through space alone can get a second "lease on life" by passing through clouds of gas in stellar nurseries, a controversial new analysis proposes. The research suggests the corpses – called neutron stars – begin to glow at X-ray wavelengths when gas falls onto them. See
g Abodes - The names Nix and Hydra have been approved for the two small satellites of Pluto discovered in May 2005. In mythology, Nix is the goddess of darkness and night, befitting a satellite orbiting distant Pluto, the god of the underworld. Hydra is the terrifying monster with the body of a serpent and nine heads, befitting the outermost moon of Pluto, the ninth planet in the solar system. See
g Life - It may be a million-to-one shot that life exists elsewhere in the galaxy, but when you’re talking about astronomy, those may be good odds. See
g Intelligence - The brain filters what we hear. It can do this in part because particular groups of neurons react to specific frequencies of sound. Neurobiologists from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen have now created a "frequency map" for numerous areas of the brain. They used magnetic resonance imaging to identify which neuronal fields are activated by single frequencies and by mixtures of frequencies. See
g Message - The Planetary Society has posted an update on SETI@home's Stellar Countdown reobservations from March. At that time, the Berkeley University based SETI@home chose the best candidates (166) from the millions of data packets analyzed by users' home computers. They traveled to Arecibo, where they had unprecedented full use of the resources of the giant dish to reobserve the areas that had hatched the chosen signals. See
g Cosmicus - NASA's newest spacecraft at Mars has already cut the size and duration of each orbit by more than half, just 11 weeks into a 23-week process of shrinking its orbit. By other indicators, the lion's share of the job lies ahead. See
g Aftermath - The discovery that alien life exists would mean that we are not the center of the universe. While most religions now recognize that the Earth is just a lump of rock, they still believe that we human beings are the most important thing in creation, that we occupy a special place in God's plan. The existence of aliens would seem to make this implausible especially if they are more advanced than we are (on all levels, intellectually, spiritually) This would mean that God has acted in the development of the aliens in a way he did not act in ours, which in turn would mean that we do not occupy the paramount role in God's creation, which as I said is a fundamental idea in religions. See