Thursday, July 13, 2006

Atomic oxygen calling card, hot dinos and learning language

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 - Kent State faculty and graduate students are among a team of physicists who recreated the material essence of the universe as it would have been mere microseconds after the Big Bang—a quark-gluon plasma. See
g Abodes - Atomic oxygen could never be confused with expensive perfume. But just as a fragrance lingering in the air of an empty room offers hints about a previous occupant, the cloud of oxygen the Cassini spacecraft encountered as it first approached Saturn turned out to be a calling card from another celestial presence, the tiny moon Enceladus. See
g Life - A new study helps answer a longstanding dinosaur mystery by revealing that the largest dinosaurs could likely maintain warm body temperatures while their smaller cousins were probably more similar to modern cold-blooded reptiles. See
g Intelligence - Experience, as the old saying goes, is the best teacher. And experience seems to play an important early role in how infants learn to understand and produce language. See
g Message - Is there life "out there"? If so, is it intelligent life? One way we can address the issue is to make a reasoned guess, based upon everything we know about astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and a host of other disciplines. Many years ago the radio astronomer Frank Drake did just this, combining all the "knowledge" in the form of a mathematical equation now named for him: The Drake Equation. See
g Cosmicus - NASA will test concepts for future space exploration next month by sending three astronauts and an oceanographer on a mission to an underwater laboratory off the coast of Florida. See
g Learning - Some students "game" computer-based teaching programs (Intelligent Tutoring Systems, or ITS). New research at the USC Information Sciences Institute is looking at ways of predicting this behavior, and using such predictions to adapt the systems to fit individual student needs. Early results are promising. See http://