Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Slime mold survival techniques, accelerated evolution of human DNA and responding to an extraterrestrial message

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 - Astronomers say the Sun has begun its next cycle of activity, part of an 11-year ebb and flow in sunspots and solar flares. See http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060818_sun_cycle.html.
g Life - In times of plenty, the uni-cellular slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum leads a solitary life. But when slime molds starve, they collectively form a multicellular slug-like creature that locomotes en masse to a more favorable spot. Then they literally stand up, forming a tower designed to save the children. See http://www.astrobio.net/
g Intelligence - A detailed scan of the human genome has revealed a small snippet of DNA that has undergone accelerated evolution in humans. See http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/060816_har1_gene.html.
g Message - SETI research isn’t limited to a single facility listening to radio signals. Another dimension of the program is The Mega-Channel Extraterrestrial Assay, which searched the Southern Hemisphere's skies briefly during the 1990s. To learn more about it, see http://www.planetary.org/html/UPDATES/seti/META2/META-story.html.
g Cosmicus - How human the up-and-coming business of space tourism will be! Early space tourists will marvel at the view, but as orbital vacations become more affordable, space tourists will include couples who want to experience space and weightlessness together. Sex in Space is the ‘killer app’ that will transform space tourism into a mega business. Making love with a view of the Earth below may be the ultimate aphrodisiac for space buffs. But, let’s think about the implications of space-based sex for a moment. See http://www.space.com/adastra/adastra_sexinspace_060804.html. For related story, see ”The First Female Space Tourist? U.S. Entrepreneur Determined to Reach Orbit” at http://www.space.com/news/060810_ansari_spaceprep.html.
g Learning - The research scientists aren’t the only ones getting excited about astrobiology. This new discipline has tremendous potential for revolutionizing science education. It is rich with exciting content to engage those who generally don’t consider themselves scientifically oriented, and also for opening the ears and minds of adults who may want a new reason to visit their local science center. See http://www.terc.edu/handsonIssues/f00/asbellclarke.html. Note: This article is from 2000.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Arthur C. Clarke’s short story "Loophole," appearing in the April 1946 issue of Astounding.
g Aftermath - If SETI is successful in detecting an extraterrestrial civilization, it will raise the question of whether and how humanity should attempt to communicate with the other civilization. How should that decision be made? What should be the content of such a message? Who should decide? The same questions would apply to proposals that signals be sent in the absence of detection, in the hope that they might be detected by an extraterrestrial civilization. See http://www.iaanet.org/p_papers/seti.html. Note: This paper was presented in October 1995.