Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Habitability of Wolf 25 and how our brains prioritize information

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 - What is the habitable zone for the nearby K-type star Wolf 25?
g Abodes - A new ultrafast laser could increase the sensitivity of astronomical tools searching for Earth-like planets by as much as 100 fold. The new technology could be a major advancement in the search for habitable extrasolar worlds. See article.
g Life - Quote of the Day: “If it’s just us … seems like an awful waste of space.” – Ellie Arroway, “Contact”
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. Note: This article is from 2006.
g Message - Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can join a worldwide search for intelligent life in space. Here's how Seti@home works.
g Cosmicus - The Phoenix Lander arrives at the red planet May 25. It will alight on soils near the north polar permanent ice cap on an Arctic plain where the Mars Odyssey, currently in orbit, detected high concentrations of ice just below the topsoil. See article.
g Learning - Schoolchildren across the United Kingdom have the chance to learn about the Sun and its effect on the Earth through a project led by a Cambridge academic. See article.
g Aftermath - Here's an intriguing essay that discusses what might happen if we do too little to contact extraterrestrials; as the authors argue, "…skepticism regarding SETI is at best unfounded and at worst can seriously damage the long-term prospects of humanity. If ETIs exist, no matter whether friendly or adversarial (or even beyond such simple distinctions), they are relevant for our future. To neglect this is contrary to the basic tenets of transhumanism. To appreciate this, it is only sufficient to imagine the consequences of SETI success for any aspect of transhumanist interests, and then to affirm that such a success can only be achieved without trying if they come to us, which would obviously mean that we are hopelessly lagging in the race for galactic colonization." See article.

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