Friday, April 29, 2011

Different scenarios for what’ll happen after first contact and Voyager probes return unsettling data

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 - More than 30 years after they left Earth, NASA's twin Voyager probes are now returning data from the edge of the Solar System. With each passing day they are beaming back a message that, to scientists, is both unsettling and thrilling. See article.
g Abodes - NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has discovered the total amount of atmosphere on Mars changes as the tilt of the planet's axis varies. This process could affect the stability of any liquid water, if it exists on the Martian surface. See article.
g Life - We already know about numerous extremophiles, microbes that can live in incredibly extreme conditions, which would easily kill almost every other creature. There are bacteria which survive in extremely high or low temperatures, in substances with an extreme pH, surrounded by nothing but solid rock, in the depths of the ocean, and so on. But now, researchers have found a different kind of resistance for bacteria: the ability to survive at a gravitational force 400.000 times bigger than normally on Earth. See article.
g Intelligence - People who have strokes are often left with moderate to severe physical impairments. Now, thanks to a glove developed at McGill, stroke patients may be able to recover hand motion by playing video games. The Biomedical Sensor Glove was developed by four final-year McGill Mechanical Engineering undergrads under the supervision of Professor Rosaire Mongrain. See article.
g Message - Looking for a club to join? Try The SETI League. The league’s site has a lot of great information for everyone from the beginner to accomplished technogeek.
g Cosmicus - Scientists are preparing to launch a spider habitat into space to observe their activities in microgravity. The research will help astrobiologists understand how life from Earth adapts to the space environment. See article.
g Learning - Author Marc Kaufman spoke about the origins of his new book, "First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth," with today. See article.
g Imagining - Among the more famous alien races from “Star Trek” are the Gorn, bipedal reptilians who are much larger and stronger than humans. The Gorn are an unlikely alien species but a splendid example of how we so often portray extraterrestrials based not on scientific principles but our own psychology — like the insect alien, most humans naturally find the reptilian alien repulsive. For science fiction, it’s a good choice to create suspense: creatures out of our nightmares that we keep going back to out of a fascination over what frightens us. But could the Gorn evolve on another world? Probably not. The most troubling feature of the Gorn is the remarkable parallel evolution that would have to occur on Gorn Prime to Earth for a few billion years, at least up to our Age of Dinosaurs. Also disconcerting is the Gorn’s snout; this adds weight to the head and with a large brain size creates excessive and unbalanced weight for the neck muscles to hold up. Another problem is the Gorn’s slow movements; certainly a species that evolved to intelligence would have to move a little faster, or it could not succeed in hunting. A caveat here is that its lack of agility may in part have propelled it to intelligence, as it needed to outthink faster moving prey. Some “Star Trek” fans have speculated that Gorn Prime possesses a harsh environment and a relatively high local gravity (1.4 Gs!), which accounts for the Gorn’s increased strength and endurance levels. This seems unlikely, though, as the Gorn then would be able to move swiftly on the asteroid presented in the episode, which Kirk shifts about on as if it were Earth normal gravity.
g Aftermath - Here’s an intriguing article that is frequently referenced in astrobiology papers: "The Consequences of a Discovery: Different Scenarios" by astronomer Ivan Almar.

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