Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Matter-antimatter imbalance, ice age sloth and helping SETI discover aliens

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 - B factory experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in the United States and at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Japan have reached a new milestone in the quest to understand the matter-antimatter imbalance in our universe. Scientists from around the world, including the United Kingdom, to probe such fundamental questions, use these experiments. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/06/060624115839.htm.
g Abodes - New technologies are enabling scientists to determine precisely the extent and causes of Earth's short-term wobbling. Like a spinning top, Earth wobbles as it rotates on its axis. In fact, it displays many different wobbling motions, ranging in period from a few minutes to billions of years. See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0606/26wobbles/.
g Life - For the past three years, students, staff and volunteers from the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, UI Department of Geoscience in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Office of the State Archaeologist have been excavating, analyzing and carefully reconstructing the bones of an ice-age giant sloth from a site near Shenandoah, Iowa. Like detectives at a 12,000-year-old crime scene, the team has been attempting to piece together a life history of this extinct, furry, SUV-sized mammal. What did it eat? Why did it die? And why did sloths mysteriously become extinct along with over three-dozen other large ice age animals? See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/06/060626123721.htm.
g Intelligence - In an exciting study that provides new understanding of how animals learn - and learn from each other - researchers have demonstrated that bats that use frog acoustic cues to find quality prey can rapidly learn these cues by observing other bats. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/06/060627094205.htm.
g Message - Want to help SETI discover alien life? If you haven’t already done so, download the free SETI at Home software. Using Internet-connected computers, the program downloads and analyzes radio telescope data on your desktop when it is idle. The program has been so successful in plowing through data that other scientific researchers, especially in medicine, are adopting it to their fields. See http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/ for the program.
g Cosmicus - As NASA sets its sights on returning to the Moon, the U.S. space agency wants to make sure the scientific research done there is no mere afterthought, but a well-conceived program developed in close consultation with the scientific community. See http://www.space.com/spacenews/businessmonday_060626.html.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity, courtesy of NASA: “The Drake Equation.” Students estimate the number of civilizations in the galaxy by first estimating the number of craters on the Moon and then by performing estimates of multiple-variable systems culminating in the use of the Drake Equation. See http://btc.montana.edu/ceres/html/DrakeEquation/Drake.htm.
g Imagining - An impressive listing of “Star Trek” aliens exists at http://cage.p.tripod.com/. Of course, most “Star Trek” aliens either are just humanoid (an unlikely scenario, though the series did explain it away by saying a previous humanoid race “seeded” worlds with their DNA) are incorporeal. Still, the series did offer some intriguing species — most notably the horta, tribble and Species 8472 — merit attention.
g Aftermath - The next social science to be created might be "exopsychology" — the study of behavior, attitudes, personalities and thoughts of alien beings. Although necessarily speculative, exopsychology might eventually be a critical link between humans and aliens. In the meantime, such a study could also provide the additional benefit of informing us about earthbound prejudices. See http://www.parentsurf.com/p/articles/mi_m1175/is_n2_v22/ai_6306