Monday, March 17, 2008

Photosynthesis in a way not previously thought possible and SETI's history and varying projects

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 - As every comic-book fan knows, Superman was born on the planet Krypton, which orbited a red star. Scientists are now learning that the Superman legend may contain a kernel of truth: the best places to find life in our galaxy could be on planets that circle the small but common stars known as red dwarfs. Note: This article is from late 2005. See article.
g Abodes - New research casts doubt on the idea that images of bright spots in Martian gullies indicate recently flowing water on Mars. The spots could have been caused by an avalanche of dry sand and gravel. See article.
g Life - Scientists have discovered marine organisms that perform photosynthesis in a way not previously thought possible. The finding may change the way in which we view photosynthesis' role in supporting life on Earth and maintaining the planet's global climate. See article.
g Intelligence - Most days, Moko the bottlenosed dolphin swims playfully with humans at a New Zealand beach. But this week, it seems, Moko found his mojo. Witnesses described Wednesday how they saw the dolphin swim up to two stranded whales and guide them to safety. See article.
g Message - Want to get a sense of SETI's history and varying projects? Jodrell Bank Observatory offers an easy to follow yet informative primer.
g Cosmicus - A detector designed to search for signs of life on Mars may prove useful closer to home. It turns out the device also excels at identifying the components of red wine and other foods and beverages that can cause headaches, or in extreme cases, even lead to strokes. See article.
g Imagining - Star Trek's very first alien, the Talosians pose quite an evolutionary challenge: Their heads are oversized because of large, powerful brains capable of telepathy and even mind control of others. First off, a brain of that size must demand a lot of energy. This is somewhat addressed through the large arteries and veins apparent on their bald heads; their frail bodies also indicate fewer cells below the neckline for oxygen-carrying blood to support. But they probably also need greater lung capacity to cycle more oxygen into their bodies as well as a larger heart for pumping that oxygen-laden blood to and through the brain. Their bodies don't indicate larger lungs, however. Another problem with their head/brain size is giving birth. The enormity of the head is limited by the size and shape of the pelvis — and their human shape and gait indicates they couldn't give birth to an infant with a head any larger than ours. A possibility is that their the brain primarily develops outside of the womb; perhaps they grow in their telepathic powers as they age. Another possibility: They are not born naturally but artificially created, indicating a separation from among the most basic instincts – mating. The Talosians, after all, are fairly unimaginative creatures, dependent upon probing the minds of others for new experiences! As for their telepathic and power of illusion capabilities, we'll just have to presume that somehow their brain lobes have evolved sections capable of connecting and interacting across the medium of air with another creature's neurons.

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