Monday, October 22, 2007

Determining of planets are habitable, dangers of defining life and ‘No leave evolution behind’

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 - Our Milky Way Galaxy is unusual in that it is one of the most massive galaxies in the nearby universe. Our solar system also seems to have qualities that make it rather unique. These qualities make the Sun one of the few stars in the galaxy capable of supporting complex life. See article.
g Abodes - It is only a matter of time before astronomers find an Earth-sized planet orbiting a distant star. When they do, the first questions people will ask are: Is it habitable? And even more importantly, is there life present on it already? For clues to the answers, scientists are looking to their home planet, Earth. See article.
g Life - It may be a mistake to try to define life, given such definitions are based on a single example -- life on Earth. See article. Note: This article is from 2006.
g Intelligence - Intranasal administration of oxytocin, a neuropeptide that plays a key role in social attachment and affiliation in non-human mammals, causes a substantial increase in trust among humans. See article.
g Message - Book alert: Scour your used bookstore shelves for "Life Beyond Earth," by Timothy Ferris. Rock-solid science writer Ferris has covered this ground before. In the two-hour PBS documentary that he wrote and narrated - which shares the title, text, and many of the images of this generously illustrated book - Ferris tackles two age-old questions about the potentially universal nature of life: Are we alone, and, if not, is anybody listening? See article.
g Cosmicus - Quote of the Day: “(We are) riders on the Earth together.” — Archibald MacLeish
g Learning - Evolution is fundamental to modern biology, geology and astronomy. Ignoring or discarding fundamental scientific understandings of the natural world does not prepare our children well for the future. As America strives to "leave no child behind," it’s time that evolution is not left behind in our science classrooms. See article.
g Imagining - Could the Kaylar, a Star Trek alien from “The Original Series’ pilot episode, “The Cage,” exist? Like the Gorn, this alien appears to be drawn from our nightmares and hence serves a more dramatic effect than offering any speculation on exobiology. A tall humanoid with intriguing jaw features, skinny legs and broad shoulders, the Kaylar on Rigel VII is reminiscent of a barbarian warrior or an ogre. Brushing aside the nearly impossible parallel evolution between Earth and the Kaylar’s home world for such a creature to come about, there are a couple of possible ways that it could have gained its great height and skinny legs. Its planet might have lighter gravity, which means an indigent alien wouldn’t fall as hard as we do on Earth; hence the supporting legs would not need to be as strong to hold up a little more weight than the typical human. In addition, we might speculate that as a humanoid, the Kaylar shared a similar primate evolution as humans, so possibly the savannah grass of its continental cradle simply was taller than on the African plain during the past few million years; that would have given taller proto-Kaylar an evolutionary advantage. Still, the Kaylar appears to be an unlikely alien.

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