The Side of Alien Life No One Talks About
There are two sides to the hunt for life. On one hand, we’ve recently found water on Mars. Titan is a moon teeming with amino acids essential to the evolution of life. Even though we know life on Earth started almost the cosmic instant the planet became habitable, we still haven’t found signs of extra terrestrial life.
I and many others like to celebrate and point out the riveting possibilities whenever we discover that a celestial body contains liquid water, or is in the habitable zone of a star but to be frank:
These things have so far been equal parts exciting and equal parts horrifying. Despite Mars having niche places where life could arise, or Europa or Enceladus or Titan - we’ve not found really any solid or persuasive reason to suggest that it actually has.
If all the places we deem habitable in the universe turn out to have nothing at all, which is so far the case, a time must come when we turn our gaze back to Earth. If value comes from supply and demand than the value of Earth just skyrocketed. Supply of cosmic biodiversity after all, may come down to this pale blue dot.
If all the cosmic vastness we observe and study is any sign at all: we are utterly and inexplicably alone.
Every 65 million years or so Earth’s had a mass extinction event and right now the trend suggests that we’re on our way to a new one.
Here’s a fact not many know about: in the last 40 years, humans have essentially killed off 50% of the planet’s wildlife.
All these trends and facts seem to be working their way towards a dark crescendo: just as we may realize Earth is perhaps a lone bastion of life, we may end up killing it all.
I remain, despite lack of evidence, optimistic that we’ll find life elsewhere one day. This however doesn’t substitute for the love I have of Earth and the creatures we evolved here with.
Sometimes people like to ask me what my favorite planet is (yeah, real cute right?). This puzzles me. Obviously it’s Earth! How couldn’t it be? Our search for life is coupled with the search for a “second Earth”, but I’m worried this conversation is leaving the planet we praise behind when it and we need each other the most.
The U.S. once upon a time was the leader in science research. We were knee-deep in a project called the Superconducting Super Collider in the 80’s. It was going to be WAY bigger than the particle accelerator at CERN (five times more powerful).
Today the location sits, abandoned and unused.
It was cancelled because Congress didn’t want to fund the International Space Station *and* the SSC.
It was cancelled after billions of dollars were spent on the project and to shut the project down it cost us billions more.
In the vacuum left by America’s change of heart, the European science group CERN started the Large Hadron Collider which started operations in 2008.
Thanks to Congressional abandonment of science and technology, the Higgs Boson was discovered decades after when it could’ve been found but there was also another fun little thing that came out of CERN: They ended up inventing the internet.
That’s not to say that had we followed through with funding for the SSC we would’ve created the internet here but that’s just the nature of it:
We do science because we seek answers to questions about the cosmos and ways to better enable our lives therein. We don’t know the answers and inventions that will come of them beforehand or we wouldn’t need to do the research.
It’s such a shame. Some of the other questions being addressed at CERN that our own homegrown SSC would’ve been five times more capable of answering are things like what caused the Big Bang? What was around before it? Is our universe the only universe? Is our universe an illusion? Are we living inside a computer program?
I put together these diagrams to help give a really easy example of how astronomy has helped us on Earth.
Of course one of the most quintessential pieces of space science are the tools we use to conduct it, the most obvious and important being the telescope.
In order to watch stellar births in the Orion Nebula, we need some incredible ability to magnify our vision, to be able to resolve sights many light-years away.
To figure out how to do this we must get financial support - basically an up-front cost. It’s essential that the general public realize this part is not charity to scientists, it’s an investment in science which pays off manifold.
Once research and technology has been done and developed, we presumably then understand more about how light interacts and moves through things.
The next step is to apply this to our telescopes…
then the magic happens.
As soon as scientists understand the physics and science behind how optics works, people naturally then start looking for other ways to apply this knowledge. As you can see in the pictures above, the basic physics of how a refracting telescope works is the same as how your eyes work.
If you, like me, are a beneficiary of this sort of technology please help us at the Planetary Society get more funding for NASA. Planetary Science is worth it!
Mars Curiosity Rover has also sent us some new and phenomenal images recently. It’s spent over a year slowly driving to it’s mission destination, Mount Sharp and just recently it reached the foot of the mountain.
The first image is, in my humble opinion, a gorgeous panorama of the Martian surface. I had no idea the sky there could be so beautiful. It looks almost as if it could be a picture from an Earth-desert.
The second image is a mudstone outcrop. It’s a strange feature sticking out of an otherwise smooth ground. The materials in the clump, we’ve found out, are all resistant to erosion. Similar things are found on Earth in places where running water has dried up.
Thirdly you can see that Curiosity’s started digging into the mountain. The farther down you dig, the farther back in time (geologically) you go. Since things don’t erode fast on Mars, this is doubly true.
The Curiosity Rover will be making news headlines again quite soon as the boring part of its journey is over.
A spectacular portrait of Mars from India’s Mangalyaan spacecraft
I don’t reblog too often but this was worth it
Right now something called the “Umbrella Revolution” is happening in Hong Kong. It’s called this because protesters have taken to using umbrellas as shields against tear gas and other crowd-control styled weaponry.
I don’t want to comment on the political motivation behind the protest because I don’t really know much about it but I think it’s important to stress the shared humanity of all involved in situations like this.
Things look like they’re getting dangerous over there and I wanted to say that a dear friend of mine who I’ll call “M” may or may not be involved. This is for that friend and all other people in that part of the world. Stay safe but at the same time - stay strong.
M I’m so proud of you! I’ve never met anyone with such a huge heart who also had the strength of character to make a difference.
Hi there! Thank you for following my blog! I'm curious about your blog name. :) is it possible for you to explain it to me? Thank you! Have a great Monday!
It’s a reference to the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient solar clock made by (well, likely made by) Archimedes. It’s usually considered the very VERY first computer, though not in the modern sense of course.
It was ridiculously complex especially for an ancient Greek machine. It could predict the locations of planets, the Moon, etc in a time when everyone thought the universe orbited around the Earth and that those orbits were circular.
Its legacy is symbolic of the wisdom that’s ahead of its time. It’s a symbol of guidance, especially in regards to astronomy.
Maybe it’s a little presumptuous of me to name my blog after it but in that sense I’ll say it’s more my aspiration than what I think I’ve earned.
The Event Horizon Telescope is a project led by MIT’s Shep Doeleman.
It’s going to do an unprecedented thing: take a picture of a black hole.
It’s pretty important to clarify exactly what this is: since light can’t escape a black hole, by definition you can’t image it. What we think we can do however is image the edge of where anything can escape from a black hole: the event horizon. The part of a black hole where it becomes black.
Besides MIT schools like Harvard, Caltech, UCal Berkeley and my own anonymous school are collaborating to create a telescope the size of the planet so powerful that it might be able to image all the way to the event horizon of the black hole floating around the center of the Milky Way.
This is a technique called interferometry. Telescopes from all over the planet can combine their information and in effect become one giant telescope.
This image would actually be a photograph of a black hole as shown in many illustrations - the black abyss-like dot gorging on our Galaxy.
Did you know that NASA has a tradition of issuing incredibly good parody posters as their official mission posters?
The current mission is #42 to the International Space Station so naturally this one is an image of the mission astronauts as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy characters.
Chandra Deep Field South
Taken by NASA’s premier X-ray telescope, this image shows not stars but entire galaxies. If you click this image it’ll open a high resolution photograph of what the universe looked like billions of years ago.
The primeval cosmos was as gorgeous as the current one