Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sound-driven supernovae, taking exoplanet’s temperature and almost to Mars

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - Scientists have made the astonishing discovery that sound might drive supernovae explosions. Their computer simulations say that dying stars pulse at audible frequencies - for instance, at about the F-note above middle C - for a split second before they blow up. See article.
g Abodes - A NASA-led team of astronomers have used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to detect a strong flow of heat radiation from a toasty planet orbiting a nearby star. The findings allowed the team to "take the temperature" of the planet. See article.
gLife - When sexual species reproduce asexually, they accumulate bad mutations at an increased rate, report two Indiana University Bloomington evolutionary biologists. See article.
g Intelligence - Picture this: Your boss is threatening to fire you because he thinks you stole company property. He doesn't believe your denials. Your lawyer suggests you deny it one more time—in a brain scanner that will show you're telling the truth. Wacky? Science fiction? It might happen this summer. See article.
g Message - Here’s a neat radio interview on the program “Earth and Sky,” about scientists looking for evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth. See article. Note: The interview is from 2003.
g Cosmicus - As it nears Mars on March 10, a NASA spacecraft designed to examine the red planet in unprecedented detail from low orbit will point its main thrusters forward, then fire them to slow itself enough for Mars' gravity to grab it into orbit. See article.
g Learning - A new study in the journal Developmental Psychology indicates that how girls and boys approach their schooling underlies the differences in math grades. It also suggests that although the girls' approach to school may give them an edge in the grades they earn in math, it may not buy them much when it comes to math scores on achievement tests because girls are not more confident than the boys about their skills in math. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read H.B. Fyfe’s short story "In Value Deceived," originally published in the November 1950 issue of Astounding magazine.
g Aftermath - What would the influence of an alien visit would be on the world’s religions? Here’s an answer from members of the International Society for Philosophers.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Planet-forming dust, return to Titan and moon particles

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has identified two huge "hypergiant" stars circled by monstrous disks of what might be planet-forming dust. The findings surprised astronomers because stars as big as these were thought to be inhospitable to planets. See article.
g Abodes - Cassini returns to Titan for the twelfth targeted flyby of Titan on today. See article. For related story, see “Rhea's wisps in color”.
g Life - Dinosaurs seem bigger than life – big bones, big mysteries. So it's a delicious irony that the next big answers about dinosaurs may come from small – very small – remains. See article. For related story, see “Scientists Argue over Dino-Bird Fossil Worth Millions”.
g Intelligence - Staying mentally and physically active throughout life is the best way to keep the mind sharp and reduce the risks of developing dementia, two recent studies show. See article.
g Message - Looking for life elsewhere is a tough task for human or robot. The good news is that the scientific skill and tools to search for, detect and inspect extraterrestrial life are advancing rapidly. See article.
g Cosmicus - As scientists and engineers figure out how to return astronauts to the Moon, set up habitats, and mine lunar soil to produce anything from building materials to rocket fuels, they are scratching their heads over what to do about Moon dust. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Moons of Jupiter”. In this lesson plan, students build model rovers to learn about engineering and evidence of alien life.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Karen Joy Fowler’s “Sarah Canary,” published by Henry Holt in 1991.
g Aftermath - A detection of extraterrestrial intelligence will profoundly effect all inhabitants of our planet. The scientific community has realized that the key to ensure a beneficial and rewarding encounter is education and preparation, and these two characteristics apply to many facets of a detection. See article.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

One million stars lost, genetically modifying Mars and ProSpace March

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - Based on observations with ESO's Very Large Telescope, a team of Italian astronomers reports that the stellar cluster Messier 12 must have lost to our Milky Way galaxy close to a million low-mass stars. See article.
g Abodes - One day, humans will step foot on Mars. And they'll be hungry. Growing food on a frozen desert planet with a suffocatingly thin atmosphere, however, will be a challenge. Two scientists from North Carolina State University hope that by borrowing genes from a couple of microbes, one that lives in boiling water, the other in ice, they can bioengineer plants that can grow on Mars. Crazy? A little. But that's just the kind of research NASA's Institute for Advanced Studies likes to fund. See article.
gLife - The majority of tiny marine plants weathered the abrupt climate changes that occurred in Earth's past and bounced back, according to a Penn State geoscientist. See article.
g Intelligence - What gives actors their seemingly effortless memory capabilities? Could acting teach us something about memory and cognition, and could acting principles help those with memory problems? See article.
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 article.
g Cosmicus - The 13th annual ProSpace March Storm will be held Sunday through Wednesday in Washington. The message this year is that, in terms of space, the nation has arrived at a fork in the road, with a distinct path forward now clearly illuminated. See article.
g Learning - Intelligent design is presented as a legitimate scientific theory and an alternative to Darwinism, but a close look at the arguments shows they don't pass scientific muster. So why are scientists worried? See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Alan Dean Foster’s “Nor Crystal Tears,” published by Del Rey in 1982.
g Aftermath - If we establish communication with a civilization even as close as 100 light years from Earth, the round-trip time for a message and its reply is 200 years. What will be the psychology of a civilization that can engage in a meaningful conversation with this sort of delay? How is such a conversation to be established? What should the content of such a conversation be? These are the questions which motivate our title: "Minds and Millennia: The Psychology of Interstellar Communication." See article.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Circumstellar habitable zone, microscopic aliens on Earth and superhumans

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - In a galaxy filled with billions of stars, scientists searching for alien life need some way to pick out those which are most likely to harbor habitable planets and moons. For more than 150 years, an important tool in this screening process has been the concept of a "circumstellar habitable zone." See article.
g Abodes - A special study group has advised NASA that Venus is far too hellish of a world for life to exist on or below the planet’s surface. Furthermore, while the potential for life in the clouds of Venus can’t be ruled out, the expert panel gauged this possibility as extremely low. See article.
gLife - Are there aliens living on Earth? Not the humanoid kind, with big eyes or glowing fingertips. But unfamiliar types of microscopic life, that doesn't use DNA. Geology professor Peter Ward thinks its possible. His new book, “Life as We Do Not Know It,” explains why. See reviews.
g Intelligence - Today at 7:16 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the population here on this good Earth is projected to hit 6.5 billion people. See article.
g Message - When the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft were launched in 1977, they each included a gold-plated phonograph record (a "golden record") of natural sounds, greetings in human voices, and a variety of music. The record cover has symbolic instructions that show how to use and understand the record, though scientists still debate whether other civilizations will be able to decipher them. For info on Voyager’s golden record, see article. Here's an explanation of the record cover diagram, and here's an interactive module that contains greetings, sounds, and pictures included on the record (requires Flash plug-in).
g Cosmicus - Lockheed Martin announced Wednesday, in partnership with the State of Florida, its plans to locate final assembly and testing of the Crew Exploration Vehicle at Kennedy Space Center if the company wins the CEV competition. See article.
g Learning - It’s a familiar chestnut: "the dinosaurs would be around today if they only had a space program." Of course there’s truth in this. If the lubberly lizards that once stomped the planet had rocket technology, they might have deflected the 5-mile diameter asteroid that speedily incinerated them and subsequently starved most of what remained. But the simple is: Science education is good for the survival of the species. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Robert L. Forward’s novel “Dragon's Egg,” published by NEL in 1980.
g Aftermath - How can we predict reactions to proof of an otherworldly intelligence? Some scientists argue that any unpredictable outcomes can only be judged against our own history. See article.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Galaxy NGC 1309, prioritizing information and astrobiology cuts

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - Looking like a child's pinwheel ready to be set a spinning by a gentle breeze, the dramatic spiral galaxy NGC 1309 is one of the latest viewed by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. See article.
g Abodes - Scientists at the University of Chicago are among the first ever to analyze cometary dust delivered to Earth via spacecraft. Scientists routinely examine extraterrestrial material that has fallen to Earth as meteorites, but never before NASA's Stardust mission have they had access to verified samples of a comet. See article.
gLife - A review published in the recent issue of Ethology suggests that the presence of multiple predators slows the loss of anti-predator abilities in isolated populations. See article.
g Intelligence - Just imagine listening to someone talk and also hearing the buzz of the overhead lights, the hum of your computer and the muffled conversation down the hallway. To focus on the person speaking to you, your brain clearly can't give equal weight to all incoming sensory information. It has to attend to what is important and ignore the rest. Two scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have taken a big step toward sorting out how the brain accomplishes this task: A mechanism for prioritizing information - previously reported only in primates - is also used by birds. See article.
g Message - What technological manifestations would make an advanced extraterrestrial civilization detectable? See http://www.coseti.org/lemarch1.htm. Note: This paper was written in 1992.
g Cosmicus - A major decrease in NASA funding for Astrobiology has been proposed. The President's budget for fiscal year '07 includes plans to cut NASA's astrobiology budget to 50% of its FY '05 level. The operating plan for the current fiscal year (FY '06) will severely curtail ongoing astrobiology funding as an interim step towards meeting the FY '07 announced level. See article.
g Learning - Here’s an opportunity to turn kids onto stargazing: During the next couple of weeks skywatchers will be turning their attention to a newly discovered comet that has just swept past the Sun and will soon cruise past Earth on its way back out toward the depths of the outer solar system. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read David Feintuch’s novel “Midshipman's Hope,” published by Warner Aspect in 1994.
g Aftermath - Even if the public seems less than awestruck by the prospect that alien life is a bunch of microscopic bugs, astrobiologists say unequivocal discovery of microbial life beyond Earth will change human society in profound ways, some unfathomable today. See article. Note: This article is from 2001.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Galactic halo, personal space travel and ‘I Love Lucy’ in space

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Scientists using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have detected an extensive halo of hot gas around a quiescent spiral galaxy. This discovery is evidence that galaxies like our Milky Way are still accumulating matter from the gradual inflow of intergalactic gas. See http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0602/06halo/.
g Abodes - As Alaska's Augustine Volcano erupts and sends a plume of ash more than 40,000 feet into the air, instruments on the ground are recording rumblings at the volcano's surface. The data collected will provide new insights into the inner workings of volcanoes along the Pacific Rim. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/
gLife - An underwater mountain that forms the world's third-largest atoll has some of the richest diversity of marine life ever found in the Caribbean, according to scientists who recently explored the area. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060214080938.htm.
g Intelligence - When a human looks at a number, letter or other shape, neurons in various areas of the brain's visual center respond to different components of that shape, almost instantaneously fitting them together like a puzzle to create an image that the individual then "sees" and understands, researchers at The Johns Hopkins University report. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060125082426.htm.
g Message - The Earth is at the center of an expanding bubble of electromagnetic radiation. The bubble, expanding at the speed of light, contains all of the man-made electromagnetic transmissions of the earth - radio, TV, radar and so on. In theory, an alien civilization could receive these signals, and form their opinion about the earth by analyzing them. To most people, it is quite discouraging to think that some alien civilization would form their opinion of Earth based upon our situation comedies. Upon a slightly deeper analysis, the conventional wisdom says, “Aliens might detect our TV signals, but at least they can't form their opinion of our civilization from our TV transmissions. Decoding the transmission is so much harder than detecting it that we don't need to worry about this.” But an editor of the book “SETI 2020” argues that this view considerably underestimates the technologies that aliens might employ. By looking at likely technical improvements - better receivers and feeds, bigger antenna, signal processing, and perhaps stellar focusing, any civilization that can detect our radiations might well be able to decode it as well. Thus aliens can form their impression of Earth from “I Love Lucy.” See http://contactincontext.org/cic/v2i1/lucy.pdf.
g Cosmicus - In the last few years, personal space travel has become a far more feasible business proposition. But much work remains in fostering and then sustaining such an enterprise. For one, there is need not to over-promise ticket-paying customers about prospective space jaunts—adventure that will be costly for the foreseeable future and far from risk-free. See http://space.com/news/060216_tourism_staif.html.
g Learning - Here is a night Web site about how to start skygazing: http://www.earthsky.com/skywatching/tips_started.php.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Gordon Eklund’s "Objects Unidentified (Flying)," anthologized in “First Contact” (edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff and published by DAW in 1997).
g Aftermath - How would proof of extraterrestrial intelligence affect humanity’s “world” view? Astronomer Steve Dick discusses the matter in this transcribed Smithsonian Institute lecture, from 1999, at http://www.sil.si.edu/silpublications/dibnerlibrarylectures/

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Stars born alone, origin of iron meteorites and chimps fail altruism test

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - For more than 200 years, astronomers thought that most of the stars in our galaxy had stellar companions. But a new study suggests the bulk of them are born alone and never have stellar company. See http://space.com/scienceastronomy/060130_
g Abodes - Iron meteorites are probably the surviving fragments of the long-lost asteroid-like bodies that formed the Earth and other nearby rocky planets, according to researchers from Southwest Research Institute and Observatoire de la Cote d'Azur in Nice, France. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=mod
g Life - An expedition to one of Asia's most isolated jungles - in the mist-shrouded Foja Mountains of western New Guinea - discovered a virtual ''Lost World" of new species, giant flowers, and rare wildlife that was unafraid of humans. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/
g Intelligence - In a new study, chimpanzees from the Wolfgang Koehler Primate Research Centre in Leipzig were given a choice: By pulling on a rope they could either deliver food to another chimpanzee or they could deliver it to an empty room. In both cases, the chimpanzee pulling the rope did not receive any food itself. Contrary to initial expectations the chimpanzees behaved neither altruistic nor spiteful. According to the researchers, both characteristics therefore seem to be human-specific. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060125082712.htm.
g Message - Here’s a quick, easy to understand primer to SETI’s radio searches and the Fermi Paradox: http://shayol.bartol.
g Cosmicus - NASA’s back to the Moon adventure is being kick-started by the building of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. That probe is the opening volley of spacecraft in response to President George W. Bush’s multi-billion dollar Vision for Space Exploration that he outlined in January 2004. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060207231610.htm.
g Learning - Many at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nation's largest gathering of scientists, spoke out over the weekend against what they called religious pressure in public schools. And they enlisted the help of about 300 teachers from across the Midwest who attended the conference to discuss the national debate over evolution. See http://www.livescience.com/othernews
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Rosemary Edgehill’s short story "We Have Met the Enemy," anthologized in “First Contact” (edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff and published by DAW in 1997).
g Aftermath - Book alert: The authentic discovery of extraterrestrial life would usher in a scientific revolution on par with Copernicus or Darwin, says Paul Davies in “Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life.” Just as these ideas sparked religious and philosophical controversy when they were first offered, so would proof of life arising away from Earth. With this brief book (160 pages, including two appendices and an index), Davies tries to get ahead of the curve and begin to sort out the metaphysical mess before it happens. Many science fiction writers have preceded him, of course, but here the matter is plainly put. This is a very good introduction to a compelling subject. See http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0465004199/002398377007

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Evidence of extra dimensions, Atlantic hot tub and Allen Telescope Array’s first project

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - Northeastern University and University of California scientists say they might soon have evidence of extra dimensions and other exotic predictions. See article.
g Abodes - A new study of ancient sediments and fossils indicates tropical Atlantic water ranged from 91 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit between 100 million and 84 million years ago. The same region today is typically 75 to 82 degrees. See article.
g Life - A team of scientists has discovered a new genus and species of dinosaur that is the oldest known and most primitive tyrannosauroid. The new basal tyrannosauroid, named Guanlong wucaii, sheds light on the early evolution and geographical distribution of coelurosaurs, small theropod dinosaurs that include the closest relatives of birds. See article. For related story, see “Pictures of newly discovered T-Rex dinosaur”.
g Intelligence - New research reveals that monkey cops help keep social groups in line. Not having guns or nightsticks, they leverage their group seniority, craft intimidating reputations and count on good voter turnout. See article.
g Message - The SETI Institute’s first project on the Allen Telescope Array will be a survey of a region around the center of our galaxy. See article.
g Cosmicus - The first experimental demonstration of quantum telecloning has been achieved by scientists at the University of Tokyo, the Japan Science and Technology Agency, and the University of York. The work is reported in the latest issue of Physical Review Letters. Telecloning combines cloning (or copying) with teleportation (i.e., disembodied transport). See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat Web site, courtesy of NASA: “Virtual Skies”. For grades 9-12, in these activities students solve real-life air traffic management problems.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Jeff Dunteman’s short story, "Marlowe," anthologized in “Alien Encounters” (edited by Jan Finder).
g Aftermath - The scientific discussion of the evolution of life in the universe raises some key philosophical and theological issues: Will life and intelligence be found throughout the universe, or will it turn out to be exceedingly rare? Will intelligent life be capable of both rationality and moral agency? Will evolutionary biology determine its moral content or will it merely bequeath intelligent life with moral capacity, leaving moral content to be determined independently of biology? If moral agency evolves, will these species inevitably exhibit moral failure, or is our generic human experience of moral failure strictly the result of our particular evolution, leaving us to expect there to be other civilizations that are entirely benign? The discussion of these issues, though largely hypothetical, can offer insight into the theological and cultural implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence as well into a better understanding of the human condition. See article.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Flashes of light, DNA in fossil bones and ‘Tune in the Universe!’

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Astronomers have detected a faint halo of hot gas surrounding and falling into a spiral galaxy located 100 million light-years from Earth. See http://space.com/scienceastronomy/
g Abodes - Back in the 1980s, airline pilots were told they must have been seeing things when they reported flashes of light shooting toward space atop thunderstorms. But in recent years, scientists have photographed the mysterious flashes and come up with interesting names for them: elves, blue jets, tigers and sprites. The flashes are associated with thunderstorms, and each type is incredibly brief and behaves differently. A new effort has produced the best images and video of sprites ever obtained. See http://www.livescience.com/forcesofnature/060216_sprites.html.
g Life - Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science recently discovered a new source of well-preserved ancient DNA in fossil bones. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop
g Intelligence - The truism is that if you want to know a culture, learn the language. But what if the language and the culture are both dead – long, long dead? See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/
g Message - Book alert: H. Paul Shuch’s “Tune in the universe! A radio amateur's guide to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence” (published by ARRL in 2001 in CD format) provides a good introduction to SETI by the executive director of the SETI League. The contents range from how to build your own radio receiver in your backyard to Shuch's selected memoirs and songs. See http://www.radio-ware.com/books/artiu.htm.
g Cosmicus - It's only a matter of time. One day, winter Olympics will be held on the moon. The moon's dust-covered slopes are good places to ski. There's plenty of powder, moguls and, best of all, low-gravity. With only 1/6th g holding them down, skiers and snowboarders can do tricks they only dreamed of doing on Earth. How about an octuple-twisting quadruple back flip? Don't worry. Crashes happen in slow motion, so it won't hurt so much to wipe out. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=modload&name=
g Learning - Here’s a cool set of classroom lessons courtesy of NASA: Astroventure, in which students search for and design a habitable planet. See http://astroventure.arc.nasa.gov/.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read J.M. Dillard’s noel “Star Trek: First Contact” (based on a screenplay by Brannon Bragga and Ron Moore and published by Pocket in 1996).
g Aftermath - The recent Hollywood movie “War of the Worlds” by Steven Spielberg is garnering much attention, but it's nothing like that accorded the 1938 radio version of H.G. Wells' novel. The extent of the panic that broadcast caused is still debated. So what really happened that night? See http://www.livescience.com/scienceof

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Planetary nebula, Saturn storm and electrosensory powers

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - Six hundred and fifty light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, a dead star about the size of Earth, is refusing to fade away peacefully. In death, it is spewing out massive amounts of hot gas and intense ultraviolet radiation, creating a spectacular object called a "planetary nebula." See article.
g Abodes - Scientists are tracking the strongest lighting storm ever detected at Saturn. The storm is larger than the continental United States, with electrical activity 1,000 times stronger than the lightning on Earth. See article. For related story, see “An Infrared Movie of Titan”.
g Life - Sharks are known for their almost uncanny ability to detect electrical signals while hunting and navigating. Now researchers have traced the origin of those electrosensory powers to the same type of embryonic cells that gives rise to many head and facial features in humans. See article.
g Intelligence - We might not be able to resist a pretty face after all, according to a report from the University of Pennsylvania. Experiments in which subjects were given a fraction of a second to judge "attractiveness" offered further evidence that our preference for beauty might be hard-wired. People who participated in the studies were also more likely to associate pretty faces with positive traits. See article.
g Message - In late 1997, after almost 40 years of operation, the Ohio State University Radio Observatory and its "Big Ear" radio telescope — which picked up the famous “Wow!” signal — ceased operation. The land on which the observatory was sitting (owned by the Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio) was sold in 1983 to land developers who later claimed their rights to develop the property. The telescope was destroyed in early 1998. See the Web page memorial to Big Ear.
g Cosmicus - NASA aims to sideline shuttle Atlantis in 2008, but a senior agency official said Friday that no job cuts are expected at Kennedy Space Center as a result. See article. For related stories, see “NASA studies shuttle engine seals, contamination” and “Discovery Astronauts Check Shuttle for Return to Flight Mission”.
g Learning - Here are some neat tips for getting started in stargazing; they are intended primarily for unaided vision sky observation and the use of binoculars.
g Imagining - Many problems faced the development of Astrobiology as a credible science when it was first named in 1958. The most basic of these problems was skepticism on the part of many scientists of the time. The ideas of Astrobiology touched too closely with science fiction to be considered seriously. The idea of life on Mars was definitely science fiction: H. G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" and Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" attested to that. And Gregory Benford and David Brin in “Heart of the Comet” have since addressed the idea of life being seeded on Earth by comets. Why would anyone take these ideas seriously? See article.
g Aftermath - Reactions to the announcement that scientists had found evidence for primitive life in a meteorite from Mars have been intense. Some concerned the scientific evidence, some the implications of extraterrestrial life, especially if intelligent. Underlying these reactions are assumptions, or beliefs, which often have a religious grounding. The two divergent beliefs, for and against the plurality of life in the universe, are examined historically and through religious traditions, particularly the Judeo-Christian. This examination guides the formulation of the right relation between science and religion as one that respects the autonomy of each discipline, yet allows for each to be open to the discoveries of the other. Based on this relationship, perspectives from scientific exploration are developed that can help individuals to respect and cope with the new phenomena that science brings, whether these imply that we might be alone in the universe or co-creatures of God with the ancient Martians. See article.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Spacetime dent, stars that might yield extraterrestrials and relating science fiction to astrobiology

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - A spinning black hole in the constellation Scorpius has created a stable dent in the fabric of spacetime, scientists say. See article.
g Abodes - Microbes may be riding high in the atmosphere of Earths sister planet, Venus. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
gLife - In this interview with Gerda Horneck, she shares her concerns about sending humans to Mars. She also explains why our own bacteria, after being exposed to the harsh radiation of outer space, won’t come back to haunt us. See article.
g Intelligence - Just over 3 million years ago, an ape in Africa began to walk on two legs and took the first step on the long road to civilization. Along the way, we discovered flint tools, fire and farming. But what is it that makes us truly human? See article.
g Message - A U.S. astronomer has announced her shortlist of stars where extraterrestrial life might be found. See article. For related story, see “Shortlist of stellar candidates for habitable worlds”.
g Cosmicus - Testing is under way by engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., to lay the foundation for developing the Crew Launch Vehicle, the agency's future launch vehicle system. See article.
g Learning - Finally, some common sense: The state bill that University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists helped draft is getting attention by proponents and opponents nationwide. The bill would ban the teaching of intelligent design as science in the state's public schools. See article.
g Imagining - The secrets of the universe remain a mystery to us, but that doesn’t stop us from making guesses. An author who writes a science fiction novel tries to base it around the technology and knowledge that we have available to us. Those tidbits of knowledge are then exaggerated to great lengths, and then set into the future, on other planets, in other dimensions in time, or under new variants of scientific law. This process is called extrapolation, and becomes the premise of the story. Here’s a Web page that works in reverse, by taking the scientific aspects from classic works of science fiction and explaining how they relate to astrobiology.
g Aftermath - Scientists should pay greater attention to discussing the social implications of discovering extraterrestrial life - even though many researchers shy away from the subject because they don't consider it "hard" science. See article.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Andromeda galaxy lineup, migrating Neptune and faster evolving apes

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - An unusually high number of galaxies are aligned along a single plane running through the center of the giant Andromeda galaxy. Scientists don’t have a theory to explain why. See article.
g Abodes - The solar system used to be much smaller. According to a new theory, Neptune long ago migrated away from the Sun and forced a vast field of giant boulders out with it. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Life - What are the arguments for the presence of ancient life on Mars? See article.
g Intelligence - While you might think of yourself as smarter than the average ape, beware: Those distant relatives of ours have a knack for evolving more quickly than we do. See article.
g Message - The spectral approach is a universal tool of both astronomical observations and SETI. Furthermore, it has a clear physical meaning – a spectrometer finds the energy distribution of photons, in human sensing it is color and pitch. Under the hypothesis on identity of physical laws in our part of universe, it may be proposed that spectrometry also are using by those aliens, who know radio and lead theirs own SETI, too. See article.
g Cosmicus - New Mexico lawmakers agreed today to proceed on a three-year commitment of funds to build a regional spaceport, designed to support commercial rocket launchings, including passenger-carrying suborbital vehicles. See article.
g Learning - Clues to finding current or past life on Mars now or at some point in the past begins with an examination of Earth's most extreme environments and the adaptable microscopic life that thrives there, according to a group of researchers launched an international broadcast science expedition Jan. 30 with The JASON Project. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Gordon R. Dickson’s novel “The Alien Way” (published by Bantam, 1965).
g Aftermath - How to predict reactions to receipt of evidence for an otherworldly intelligence? Some scientists argue that any unpredictable outcomes can only be judged against our own history. See article.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

‘Our Cosmic Habitat,’ seeing through Venus’ veil and the geniuses behind a genius

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - Science can now tell the story of the universe from quark soup to the emergence of life on the third rock from the Sun. And no one is more capable of doing so than Sir Martin Rees, leading British astrophysicist and Astronomer Royal. He is articulate, witty, and authoritative, and he has the intellectual breadth to cover this enormous range in space, time, and subject matter.
Case in point: His science book “Our Cosmic Habitat”.
g Abodes - The planet Venus is best known for the thick layers of clouds that veil its surface from view by telescopes on Earth. But the veil has holes, and a New Mexico State University scientist plans on using a solar telescope to peer through them to study the weather on Venus. See article.
g Life - Scientists have forced a little evolution in the laboratory, controlling whether a caterpillar becomes green or black. See article.
g Intelligence - The reality is that behind many scientific geniuses, there is at least one other genius, and often a number of them. See http://www.livescience.com/history/060123_genius_behind.html.
g Message - A number of searches for extraterrestrial intelligence actually have occurred, are ongoing and are planned. Here’s one of the more famous ones: Project BETA, at Harvard University.
g Cosmicus - NASA is preparing to launch a new oxygen generation system to the International Space Station that uses water to generate breathable oxygen for crew members. The system will be installed in a cargo compartment later this month for a possible May launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery. See article.
g Learning - Could a new world be discovered with a department store telescope having only a small 4-inch diameter lens? It was a little more than a decade ago that the world's most powerful telescopes could just begin to discover extrasolar planets, but with over 120 new worlds found, the technique seems primed to become general. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Barbara Delaplace’s "Black Ops" in “First Contact,” edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff (published by DAW in 1997).
g Aftermath - While formal principles have been adopted for the eventuality of detecting intelligent life in our galaxy, no such guidelines exist for the discovery of non-intelligent extraterrestrial life within the solar system. Current scientifically based planetary protection policies for solar system exploration address how to undertake exploration, but do not provide clear guidance on what to do if and when life is detected. Considering that Martian life could be detected under several different robotic and human exploration scenarios in the coming decades, it is appropriate to anticipate how detection of non-intelligent, microbial life could impact future exploration missions and activities, especially on Mars. See article.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Space dust seedings, breath of clay and Mars Rovers working overtime

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Clouds of space dust may have seeded life not only on our planet but in countless other solar systems, a meteorite study suggests. See http://www.newscientist.com/article.nsid=dn2703&
. Note: This letter is from 2002.
g Abodes - According to a new study, clay made animal life possible on Earth. A sudden increase in oxygen in the Earth's recent geological history, widely considered necessary for the expansion of animal life, occurred just as the rate of clay formation on the Earth's surface also increased. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.phpop=
g Life - It's a case of evolutionary detective work. Biology researchers at Lewis & Clark College and the University of Arizona have found evidence for an ancient transfer of a toxin between ancestors of two very dissimilar organisms - spiders and a bacterium. But the mystery remains as how the toxin passed between the two organisms. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/
g Intelligence - Believe it or not, higher education is linked to a greater tendency to believe in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, according to a new study. See http://www.livescience.
g Message - Should we modify the Drake Equation to account for civilizations which actually engage in deliberate interstellar transmission? See http://lnfm1.sai.msu.ru/SETI/koi/
g Cosmicus - NASA's Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have been working overtime to help scientists better understand ancient environmental conditions on the red planet. NASA's third mission extension for the rovers lasts through September, if they remain usable that long. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.
g Learning - If improving science and math education is suddenly a national priority, someone apparently forgot to tell the parents and the students. See http://www.livescience.com/othernews/ap_
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Lester Del Rey’s “Outpost Of Jupiter,” published by Holt Rinehart in 1963.
g Aftermath - Here’s an interesting book that is slated for June publication: “Contact with Alien Civilizations: Our Hopes and Fears about Encountering Extraterrestrials,” by Michael Michaud. This book describes a wide variety of speculations by many authors about the consequences for humanity of coming into contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. The assumptions underlying those speculations are examined, and some conclusions are drawn. As necessary background, the book also included brief summaries of the history of thinking about extraterrestrial intelligence, searches for life and for signals, contrasting paradigms of how contact might take place, and the paradox that those paradigms allegedly create. See http://www.springer.com/sgw/cda/frontpage/0,11855,4-40440-22-72043535-0,00.html.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Kick in universe expansion, working memory and New Horizons

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - The orbiting Chandra X-ray telescope has shown that the expansion of the universe received a kick midway through its life, about six billion years ago. See article. Note: This article is from 2004.
g Abodes - Ocean temperatures might have risen even higher during the last century if it weren't for volcanoes that spewed ashes and aerosols into the upper atmosphere, researchers have found. The eruptions also offset a large percentage of sea level rise caused by human activity. See article.
g Life - Scientists at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Plant Biology have found that photosynthetic bacteria living in scalding Yellowstone hot springs have two radically different metabolic identities. As the sun goes down, these cells quit their day job of photosynthesis and unexpectedly begin to fix nitrogen, converting nitrogen gas (N2) into compounds that are useful for cell growth. The study is the first to document an organism that can juggle both metabolic tasks within a single cell at high temperatures, and also helps answer longstanding questions about how hot-spring microbial communities get essential nitrogen compounds. See article.
g Intelligence - The ability to retain memory about the details of a natural scene is unaffected by the distraction of another activity and this information is retained in "working memory" according to a study recently published in Journal of Vision, an online, free access publication of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. These results reinforce the notion that humans maintain useful information about previous fixations in long-term working memory rather than the limited capacity of visual short-term memory. See article.
g Message - OhmyNews recently interviewed Peter Backus, observing programs manager in the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute, located in Mountain View, Calif. Here’s a transcript of the interview.
g Cosmicus - As the New Horizons mission to Pluto prepared for launch in January, NASA presented a webcast in which scientists answered questions from the public. In this edited transcript, David Kusnierkiewicz, mission systems engineer for New Horizons, talks about the technology that will take the spacecraft to Pluto and beyond. See article.
g Learning - What is the joy of stargazing? See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read John DeChancie’s short story "The Seepage Factor," anthologized in “First Contact” (edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff, published by DAW in 1997).
g Aftermath - Astronomers are searching hard for that first interstellar phone-call from ET. But when it happens, how will we react? Will it be a major trauma for humankind, or a new beginning? See article.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

X-ray movie of Milky Way Galaxy, 10th planet and sensitivity to rose odor

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - A new X-ray movie of the Milky Way Galaxy shows stars erupting and black holes pulsating over a full decade of time. See article.
g Abodes - Claims that the Solar System has a tenth planet are bolstered by the finding by a group led by Bonn astrophysicists that this alleged planet, announced last summer and tentatively named 2003 UB313, is bigger than Pluto. By measuring its thermal emission, the scientists were able to determine a diameter of about 3000 km, which makes it 700 km larger than Pluto and thereby marks it as the largest solar system object found since the discovery of Neptune in 1846. See article. For a related story, see “EL61, A Space Oddity”.
g Life - The massive, hollow crests that protrude like bananas from atop the heads of duck-billed dinosaurs did not help their sense of smell, as previously believed. See article.
g Intelligence - Before giving flowers or scattering rose petals on Valentine's Day, make sure your significant other has already gotten out of bed. In a study published recently in the journal Chemical Senses, researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University discovered that sensitivity to rose odor is greater in subjects who are sitting than in those lying down. See article.
g Message - Here’s something neat albeit technical: A slide show presentation of "Spectrum Environment of the Allen Telescope Array".
g Cosmicus - Britain's Department of Aerospace Engineering and the University of Bristol have taken a step toward a self-healing spacecraft. See article.
g Learning - Here’s a neat set of classroom activities for high school students: “Voyages Through Time.” It’s an integrated science curriculum for ninth or tenth grade based on the theme of evolution and delivered on CD-ROM. Its six modules span the breadth of astrobiology research, from cosmic evolution through the evolution of life, and beyond. See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Julie E. Czerneda’s short story "First Contact, Inc.," anthologized in “First Contact” (edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff, published by DAW in 1997).
g Aftermath - It is hard to imagine what an extraterrestrial life form might think if confronted with the words "you're human / they are human / we are human / let's try to be human / dance!" See article. Note: This article is from 2005.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Debris disks, disappearance of Neanderthals and Alien Safari

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - Debris disks discovered around two nearby stars look strikingly like the Kuiper Belt in the outer part of our solar system, astronomers said today. See http://space.com/scienceastronomy/
g Abodes - One of the paradoxes of recent explorations of the Martian surface is that the more we see of the planet, the more it looks like Earth, despite a very big difference: Complex life forms have existed for billions of years on Earth, while Mars never saw life bigger than a microbe, if that. See http://www.astrobio.net/news/
g Life - Scientists soon hope to be able to quantify the vocal feeding behavior of the humpback whales in North America’s Chathum Strait as compared to those in Fredrick Sound. Being able to doing so actually will contribute to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. See http://space.com/searchforlife/seti_doyle_whale_060126.html.
g Intelligence - The disappearance of Neanderthals is frequently attributed to competition from modern humans, whose greater intelligence has been widely supposed to make them more efficient as hunters. However, a new study forthcoming in the February issue of Current Anthropology argues that the hunting practices of Neanderthals and early modern humans were largely indistinguishable, a conclusion leading to a different explanation, also based on archaeological data, to explain the disappearance of the Neanderthals. This study has important implications for debates surrounding behavioral evolution and the practices that eventually allowed modern humans like ourselves to displace other closely-related species. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/
g Message - Here are some neat scenes of the SETI Institute's new Allen Telescope Array, which is under construction at Hat Creek Radio Observatory and operated by U.C. Berkeley: http://www.pbase.com/
. For related story, see “Hello, is there anybody out there?” at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/165440_seti19.html (Note: this article is from 2004).
g Cosmicus - NASA is drawing up plans for six new Centennial Challenges as part of the agency’s series of contests that offers cash prizes for technological achievements. See http://space.com/business
g Learning - Here’s a neat classroom activity: “Alien Safari.” New from NASA PlanetQuest, Alien Safari can be used in your classrooms or informal education settings to help kids discover some of the most extreme organisms on our planet, and find out what they are telling astrobiologists about the search for life beyond Earth. See http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/AlienSafari_launch_page.html.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Peter Crowther’s short story "Palindromic," anthologized in “First Contact” (edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Larry Segriff and published by DAW in 1997).
g Aftermath - If we establish communication with a civilization even as close as 100 light years from Earth, the round-trip time for a message and its reply is 200 years. What will be the psychology of a civilization that can engage in a meaningful conversation with this sort of delay? How is such a conversation to be established? What should the content of such a conversation be? These are the questions which motivate our title: "Minds and Millennia: The Psychology of Interstellar Communication." See http://web.archive.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Star formation, 3-D fossils and returning to the moon

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - New findings from a large survey of galaxies suggest that star formation is largely driven by the supply of raw materials, rather than by galactic mergers that trigger sudden bursts of star formation. Stars form when clouds of gas and dust collapse under the force of gravity, and the study supports a scenario in which exhaustion of a galaxy's gas supply leads to a gradual decline in the star-formation rate. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/
g Abodes - UCLA paleobiologist J. William Schopf and colleagues have produced 3-D images of 650-million to 850-million-year-old fossils preserved in rocks. The achievement might be used if a future space mission to Mars brings rocks back to Earth. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/upi/index.phpfeed=Science&article=UPI-1-20060131-17055500-bc-us-rockfossils.xml.
g Life - A hardy microbe that can withstand huge doses of radiation is most likely to have evolved this ability on the Red Planet, argue scientists. See http://www.newscientist.com/article.nsid=dn28
. Note: This article is from 2002.
g Intelligence - New research indicates that an area of the brain thought to act in reward circuitry may represent a phase in visual processing during which sexual orientation modulates how we perceive individual faces. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060118100238.htm.
g Message - The Allen Telescope Array, formerly known as the One Hectare Telescope, is a joint effort by the SETI Institute and the Radio Astronomy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley to construct a radio interferometer that will be dedicated to astronomical and simultaneous search for extra-terrestrial intelligence observations. It is being constructed at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles northeast of San Francisco, California and will be composed of 350 antennas at completion. See http://www.answers.com/topic/allen-telescope-array.
g Cosmicus - ATK Thiokol is preparing to begin work on a more powerful variant of the space shuttle solid-rocket motor it has long produced as part of a streamlined NASA exploration plan that would land astronauts on the Moon in early 2017, a year earlier than previously envisioned. See http://space.com/spacenews/businessmonday_060130.html. For related stories, see “'Man in the moon' origin may have been found” at http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0602/09moon/ and “Lunar Liquid Mirror Telescope Studied By NASA” at http://space.com/businesstechnology/060208_technovel_lmt.html.
g Learning - A problematic issue of general science education is how to present the diverse subjects in the sciences within the limited allocated time in an integrative manner. It should be clear that it is important to instill in non-science majors a lasting interest in, enthusiasm for, and an understanding of fundamental concepts in science, which any modern person should have. The importance of this is particularly relevant when considering that some of these students will become administrators and political leaders with a profound influence on how scientific research will be pursued and funded in the future. See http://aer.noao.edu/AERArticle.phpissue=8&section=8&article=1. Note: This article is from 2005.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read James Corrick’s short story "A Perfect Day," anthologized in “Alien Encounters,” (edited by Jan Finder).
g Aftermath - What would be the affect on humanity following contact with alien life? Portions of a Brookings Institute report offer some insights. See http://www.humanunderground.com/Brookings.html for either the entire report or the relevant excerpts.

Friday, February 10, 2006

First bright objects in the universe, challenging Cope’s Rule and Darwin’s birthday celebrations

Welcome! "Alien Life" tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Here's today's news:
g Stars - A tiny galaxy has given astronomers a glimpse of a time when the first bright objects in the universe formed, ending the dark ages that followed the birth of the universe. See article.
g Abodes - NASA’s Spirit Mars rover has arrived at a site dubbed "Home Plate" within Gusev crater. But what the robot found has left scientists puzzled. See article.
g Life - Biologists have long believed that bigger is better when it comes to body size, since many lineages of animals, from horses to dinosaurs, have evolved into larger species over time. But a new study suggests that maxim, known as “Cope’s Rule,” may be only partly true. See article. For related story, see “Tiny Tyrant—Fossil May Be Mini T. Rex Cousin” (note: this article is from 2002).
g Intelligence - While high school freshmen sometimes struggle with parallelograms and the Pythagorean Theorem, people deep in the Amazon quickly grasp some basic concepts of geometry. The finding suggests all humans, regardless of language or schooling, possess a core set of geometrical intuitions. See article.
g Message - The Allen Telescope Array will consist of approximately 350 6.1-meter offset Gregorian dishes arrayed at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory site. Given the number of antennas and large size of the primary beam (approximately 4 degrees at 21 cm wavelength), this array will have an unprecedented amount of flexibility in observing. See article.
g Cosmicus - NASA engineers have successfully tested a new breed of reaction control engine and propulsion system. Aimed at furthering NASA's space exploration goals, the tests helped investigate the possibility of future space travel fueled by non-toxic propellants. See article.
g Learning - Thanks to the "intelligent design'' movement, Charles Darwin's birthday is evolving into everything from a badminton party to church sermons this weekend. "The people who believe in evolution ... really just sort of need to stand up and be counted,'' said Richard Leventhal, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. "Evolution is the model that drives science. It's time to recognize that.'' See article.
g Imagining - Like first contact stories? Then be sure to read Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “2001: A Space Odyssey,” published by NAL in 1968.
g Aftermath - What should we say to an extraterrestrial? Try the World Wide Web. SETI astronomer Seth Shostak opines at article.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Millisecond pulsar, exploring an impact crater and ‘What’s Out There’

Welcome! “Alien Life” tracks the latest discoveries and thoughts in the various elements of the famous Drake Equation. Today’s news:
g Stars - A team of U.S. and Australian astronomers for the first time has precisely measured the mass of a millisecond pulsar - a tiny, dead star spinning hundreds of times every second. This result is of special interest because it gives new insight into the production of millisecond pulsars and may shed light on the laws that govern nuclear matter. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/
01/ 060115154754.htm
g Abodes - Travel with Aaron Gronstal on a drilling expedition in Chesapeake Bay, the site of a 35 million-year-old impact crater. This portion of his journal is the final part of a 4-part series. See http://
g Life - A fundamental process that has puzzled researchers for many years has been explained by UK scientists. Some simple plants that are crucial in maintaining the balance of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere require vitamin B12 to grow properly but it has been a mystery to scientists why some types needed external sources and others did not. Now researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Kent have discovered that half of all algae have a dependent but beneficial relationship with bacteria that make the vitamin for them. See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060114152028.htm.
g Intelligence - Research on the XPod, a mobile music player that senses activity and emotion, will be presented at Proceedings of the International Conference on Mobile Technology, Applications and Systems later this year. See http://www.livescience.com/scienceoffiction/060121_xpod.html.
g Message - While advanced civilizations might be tempted to use optical means such as lasers to send information between the stars, there are some good reasons that nearly all the major Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence experiments are looking for radio waves instead. See http://www.coseti.org/tps_01.htm.
g Cosmicus - When it comes to Russian spacesuits, what goes up, most often does not come down... at least not in one piece. See http://space.com/news/cs_060203_suitsat_stats.html.
g Learning - Book alert: “What's Out There,” by Mary K. Baumann, Will Hopkins, Loralee Nolletti, Michael Soluri, is a breathtaking photographic tour of the universe featuring more than 180 exquisite, cutting-edge images. The photos, taken by the newest space explorers - highly sophisticated telescopes, probes, and satellites - are arranged in A to Z format with thorough yet compact text blocks that elucidate the phenomena in a refreshingly concise and accessible manner. From asteroids to pulsars to white dwarfs, each entry consists of bold photos and descriptive text. A data box accompanying each picture provides fascinating details about how, where, and when each shot was taken. In the back of the book are biographies of the space probes and telescopes, along with an essay on color imagery in space and a glossary. Co-author Michael Soluri took some time to answer a few questions about how the book came to be and how we look at the universe at http://space.com/spacelibrary/051209_wot_soluri.html.
g Imagining - Many science fiction story lines involve alien life forms. From a literary prospective, aliens often serve as metaphors for something more familiar. From a practical prospective, they make stories more interesting and TV more eye-catching. But what of scientific accuracy? A professor offers his advice about "How to Build an Alien" at http://people.msoe.edu/~tritt/sf/BuildAnAlien.pdf.
g Aftermath - Could religions survive contact with extraterrestrials? The Medieval Church didn't think so, as the discovery would challenge mankind's central role in the cosmos. Today such ideas are considered old fashioned, and many theologians welcome the discovery of life — even intelligent life — among the stars. But if scientists were to find microscopic Martians or a signal from another world, would established religions really take it in stride? For a discussion, check out this past program of SETI’s “Are We Alone?” at http://www.seti.org/site/apps/nl/newsletter2.asp?c=ktJ2J9MMIsE&b=289154. Note: An mp3 player is required to play the audio files; you can download one at the site for free.