Thursday, January 07, 2010

Martian lake and alien life as dancing specks of dust

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 captured an action-packed picture of the nearby Small Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy that looks like a wispy cloud when seen from Earth. See article.
g Abodes - Spectacular satellite images suggest that Mars was warm enough to sustain lakes three billion years ago, a period that was previously thought to be too cold and arid to sustain water on the surface, according to research published in the journal Geology. See article.
g Life - Could alien life exist in the form of dancing specks of dust? According to a new simulation, electrically charged dust can organize itself into DNA-like double helixes that behave in many ways like living organisms, reproducing and passing on information to one another. See article. Note: This article is from 2007.
g Intelligence - A new study of chimpanzees living in the wild adds to evidence that our closest primate relatives have cultural differences, too. See article.
g Message - Earthlings could make contact with extraterrestrial beings by the year 2025, two astronomers predict. See article. Note: This article is from 2003.
g Cosmicus - The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has passed a key milestone crucial to producing the high-quality images that will be the trademark of this revolutionary new tool for astronomy. See article.
g Imagining - Alien life has been one of the staples of science fiction since the origins of the genre, and Star Trek, one of its best-known examples, has hardly shied away from it. Yet, while the line above—taken from a memorable (if annoying) parody of the original series—has been indelibly linked to the Star Trek franchise, it is hardly representative of the life forms seen in its various incarnations on the big and small screen. For every unusual alien, be it a vaporous cloud or the silicon-based Horta, Star Trek featured dozens, if not hundreds, of humanoid aliens, differing from humans only through some combination of forehead ridges, crumpled noses, or pointed ears (and almost all speaking flawless English, of course.) Such are the limitations of the makeup and special effects budgets of a TV series, one might argue. Yet even the Star Wars epics, with budgets far larger than any television series, feature a menagerie of aliens not so dissimilar that they could not socialize together at the Mos Eisley cantina. See article.
g Aftermath - Will we find extraterrestrial intelligence—and should we want to? Such are the questions examined in “Contact with Alien Civilizations.” Michael A.G. Michaud, a space policy analyst and former diplomat, provides an engrossing overview of the probabilities, promises, and risks of encountering smart aliens. Drawing heavily on the scientific and scholarly literature (he apologizes for not thoroughly discussing science fiction), Michaud’s approach is to compile diverse expert opinions on alien-related topics and relentlessly scrutinize premises about what the extraterrestrials would be like. His analysis suggests that contact is a serious—and not necessarily pleasant—possibility. See article or this review.

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