Sunday, September 02, 2007

Recreating supernovas in the lab, how volcanoes helped life flourish and Project Target

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 - Physicists hope to uncover new cosmic secrets by recreating some supernova features in the lab. See article.
g Abodes - A switch from predominantly undersea volcanoes to a mix of undersea and terrestrial ones shifted the Earth's atmosphere from devoid of oxygen to one with free oxygen, according to geologists. See article.
g Life - Dinosaurs might have gotten a whiff of orchids before the beasts' demise, newfound fossil remains suggest. See article.
g Intelligence - Maybe walking upright on two legs isn't such a defining human feature after all. Scientists who spent a year photographing orangutans in the rain forest say the trait probably evolved in ancient apes navigating the treetops long before ancestors of humans climbed to the ground -- a hypothesis that contradicts science museums the world over. See article.
g Message - Here’s something neat: A site about Project Target, or the Telescope Antenna Researching Galactic Extraterrestrial Transmissions, from Hay River Radio, which boldly proclaims that such signals indeed exist! See article.
g Cosmicus - After six weeks of dust storms, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers have resumed driving. Opportunity and Spirit will now continue their mission to study the history of water on Mars, answering questions about whether or not Mars’s environment might have supported life in its past. See article.
g Learning - An outstanding editorial appeared in the New Jersey newspaper The Record during summer 2005. “Intelligent design is not science; it's not even a theory,” the editorial rightly states. “It's just a sneaky way to get religion into the classroom by ‘teaching the controversy’ that evolution can't explain all of life's complexities.” See article.
g Imagining - Here’s an interesting critical examination of science fiction aliens that’s worth reading: George E. Slusser’s "Metamorphoses of the Dragon," in “Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction," (Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin, eds., 1987). It critiques LeGuin's ideas about dragons as fantasy creatures, then goes on to discuss dragon-like aliens in SF in Clarke's “Childhood's End” and Herbert's “Dune” and “Dragon in the Sea” series, bringing in contexts as wide-ranging as Beowulf, the work of Escher, subatomic physics and Sagan's “Dragons of Eden.”
g Aftermath - Here’s an intriguing short story for you to look up: Frederick Pohl’s “The Day after the Day the Martians Came.” It examines racial prejudice and raises an interesting point about how we might react to one another following alien contact. Pohl’s story is anthologized in the classic “Dangerous Visions,” edited by Harlan Ellison.