Sunday, June 25, 2006

Our humdrum galaxy, Earth turning into Venus and ‘Worlds Without End’

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 - For those among us who like to think we are something special, things have gone downhill since Ptolemy. First, Copernicus’ theories suggested that the Earth was not the center of the universe after all. Then it turned out that the sun was a run-of-the-mill star. Eventually even the Milky Way was shown to be relatively humdrum. Well, it just got more humdrum. See
g Abodes - Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking told Chinese students that Earth could become like Venus. See http://www.livescience.
g Life - Scientists have found 136-million-year-old piece of amber encasing pieces of web and trapped insects that helps fill in the gaps of the origin of orb webs. The finding also indicates predatory spiders likely played a role in the evolution of flying insects. See
g Intelligence - Learning to communicate and adapting our behavior to the information we receive has been fundamental to human evolution. Researchers have attempted to build robots or devices with the communication skills of a human adult. However, that is a shortcut that ignores the evolution of language and the skills gained from social interaction, thereby limiting the ability of artificial intelligence devices to react to stimuli to within a fixed set of parameters. See
g Message - Book alert: “Worlds Without End: the Historic Search for Extraterrestrial Life,” by R.A.S. Hennessey, offers the first complete history of Pluralism - from Plato to NATO. Is there life, intelligent or otherwise, on other worlds - or are we unique and alone in the Universe? This question, now assuming a leading role in science and contemporary culture, is of great antiquity. Its long history has embraced a vast range of interests - from the philosophers of classical Greece, medieval theologians and intellectuals of the Enlightenment down to today's cosmologists, UFO enthusiasts and fans of TV space-operas. Among the important contributors to this 2500-yearold debate are Plato, Aquinas, Newton, Kant, Tom Paine, H.G. Wells, Sir Fred Hoyle and Francis Crick. Worlds Without End is, however, the first full-length chronicle of the whole, long saga. As a result of this long perspective R.A.S. Hennessey is able to identify the major trends and developments in pluralist theories over the centuries. Surprisingly his study reveals that much of what is considered to be new turns out to be old and well-worn - showing how little is truly 'new under the Sun'. This well-illustrated and accessibly written work thus provides an invaluable background to one of the major debates of our time. It will be welcomed not only by those engaged in this debate - scientists, historians, theologians and science fiction readers - but anyone who has looked up at the night sky and wondered, as have others down the ages, "Is there anyone out there?" See
g Cosmicus - Northrop Grumman has delivered an important element of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Backplane Stability Test Article, to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center for a series of tests designed to verify its readiness for use in space. See
g Learning - Here is a very thorough list of astrobiology-related journals, magazines and newsletters:
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Marc Bilgrey’s "Random Acts," in the anthology “First Contact,” edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff (published by DAW in 1997).