The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘astronomy’ Category

NIGHTMARES

The other evening I was watching the History Channel which ran a number of episodes of the program, “Ancient Aliens” and followed those up with several episodes of “The Universe.”  I find that the mysteries of the universe are even more mind-expanding and interesting than say, watching a football game or even commenting on political poltroons.  After all, it might be argued (rather forcefully) that the universe is a bit bigger than either of these two – being, as it is, the sum total of everything.

As a child I remember spending summers in the Catskills and, after dinner, sitting outside our little cabin, staring up at the night sky.  I was away from the glare of the lights in New York City and the stars shone bright and sparkly.  Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was just looking at a small portion of our rather average 300 billion star-filled Milky Way galaxy which was only one of billions of such galaxies.  But even with my view that this little subsection of stars was the universe, I couldn’t help but be struck by a sense of true awe at the vastness and the possibilities that must exist in this amazing expanse.

Even the most entrenched city dweller whose view of the night sky is obscured with smog, haze and neon lights has seen the moon, if not the wide panoply of stars.  And the moon has always fascinated me with its changing phases and the images which we project on it, “The Man on the Moon,” or if you’re Asian, “The Mouse on the Moon.”  And it is well accepted science that the moon and the Earth have a symbiotic, gravitational relationship.  We know that the moon is the reason that our oceans have tides and the reason that the Earth bulges as a result of the moon’s influence.  And we also know that the moon is doing what it has done for billions of years.  It is moving away from the Earth, now at the rate of about 1.5 centimeters a year.  Egad!

About 620 million years ago or so, the Moon was so much closer that a day on Earth was only 21 hours long.  But as our satellite’s distance from its host planet has increased, it’s gravitational influence has decreased, resulting in the Earth’s slowing rotation.  One can only imagine the height of the waves in our planet’s oceans back then.  Of course, there was no one around to document that phenomenon.  But it would be reasonable to say that the weather and climate were far more extreme than what we know today.

Having spent a number of hours watching these programs, I retired for the night, thoroughly content with thinking about all the ideas which had been presented.  Who did build all those pyramids around the Earth?  What was the purpose and who could have constructed the Nazca lines in Peru?  What must it be like to witness a super nova as a star implodes?  And then the moon and its distancing itself from Earth sprung through my sleeping thoughts – and I awoke in a sense of panic.

Suddenly, I realized that in a mere 50 billion years the relationship between the Earth and our satellite would be over after a long and fruitful marriage.  The moon would become an errant wanderer.  There would be no more songs written about the moon, blue or otherwise.  The Earth’s tides would cease.  Our symbiotic relationship would be over.  Life as we know it today would be forever changed.

So I thought about this and was going to start a campaign that we immediately develop a scientific project to figure out a way to keep the moon in place where it is today, just where it belongs.  And then it hit me.  Before the moon escapes the grip of Earth’s gravity, in about 45 billion years, good old Sol is going to consume it’s fuel and turn into a red star, forever altering life on Earth by ending it.  I turned my focus to that startling event and realized that this was the predictable cataclysm which deserves our immediate attention.  And we have 5 billion fewer years in which to find a solution than in the moon’s escaping the Earth’s gravitational force.

Astronomers are discovering that our Milky Way contains hundreds of exo-planets which exist around their respective stars.  Some orbit their suns either too closely or too far to sustain life as we know it.  Some are far too large and the effects of their gravity would quickly crush a human being who ventured on their surface.  But with the incredible vastness of space, it seems inevitable that we will find a planet, or perhaps even many, that are capable of sustaining human life.  But that’s just the first part of the equation.  Then we have to get there.

With our present state of technology and keeping in mind Einstein’s premise that the speed of light is an absolute which cannot be exceeded, even if we were to find that our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri had planets which could support human life, it is 4.24 light years from Sol.  So picture a massive spaceship with a few thousand pilgrim/explorer/settlers/ on board, confined to a relatively small space for a period of time of longer than four years.  How would they get along for that amount of time when passengers on a plane here on Earth can barely handle sitting next to a stranger for four or five hours?  The solution might be putting them all into cryo-sleep for the time of the journey and resuscitating them on arrival.

This, of course, assumes that we were able to develop a propulsion system which allowed us to approximate the speed of light at 186,284 miles per second.  The fastest man made object to date was the Helios 2 probe, which sped along at slightly less than 150,000 miles per hour – which is about 1/24,000th the speed of light.  That would make our theoretical journey a 100,000 year long trip.  We have a lot of work to do not only in improving our technology to speed up our rate of travel but we probably need some collaboration from the Food Saver System to make sure those cryogenically frozen explorers don’t suffer from freezer burn.

Of course, even if we do find habitable planets in time and even if we develop the technology to shuttle some of our teeming masses to these brand new horizons, there is one factor which we probably won’t know until those stalwart souls show up at their new home.  Those planets may be occupied by intelligent beings who have very strict laws about the immigration to their world of alien creatures and might tell these voyagers to go home and get lost.  Now wouldn’t that be a pickle?

Some people see “global warming” as the issue which most challenges humanity on planet Earth.  But I would suggest they have a very unclear concept of the dangers which truly imperil us.  So I wish we would all get together and recognize that the moon’s wafting off into space and the sun’s ultimate burnout are the real threats to humanity’s survival.  And I wish someone would get busy and try to figure out a plan to insure that we could make it to alien worlds so that I can get a good night’s sleep and put an end to my nightmares.

ROSSINI AND THE TAX MAN

As we are on the eve of that fateful day, April 15th which will usher in a total eclipse of the moon, the beginning of Passover (good Lord deliver us) and, of course, the deadline for filing our individual tax returns, it seems appropriate to ease the burden of all this weighty stuff by listening to a little soothing music.

The overture to Gioachino Rossini’s two act opera, “La Gazza Ladra,” (The Thieving Magpie) seems especially appropriate – particularly as it relates to the third of the events enumerated above.  I make that statement not so much because of the wonderful music but because of the title of the piece.

Those last minute tax preparers will probably identify with the sense of urgency that the music builds as it rushes to its final climax.  And, of course, we must not overlook the famous “Rossini crescendo” which the composer incorporated into virtually all of his work.

So sit back, enjoy, get a pot of coffee going, pull out all the papers you’ve stored in shoe boxes and know that you’re engaged in a patriotic duty as you get ready to figure out how much money you are going to send to the IRS so that Ms. Lois Lerner can enjoy a comfortable retirement.

ON KNOWLEDGE

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

(Attributed {attribution disputed}) to Charles Holland Duell, Commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office 1898-1901.

Whether Commissioner Duell made that comment or not, it is reflective of a mindset to which we humans sometimes turn.  That mindset is correctly called closed-mindedness.  We limit our thinking and box ourselves into our comfort zones and there spend our lives, unwilling to challenge our perceptions, content with the little universe we have created for ourselves.

But we know the universe is a big place – a very big place – an unfathomably big place.  And we know that our place in it is very small and very new.  Some people find that threatening.  I, on the other hand, think that is very exciting.  Just thinking about how little we know and how much we have to learn gets the hairs on my neck standing at full attention – and reverence.

Our most recent scientific estimate is that the universe is 13.5 billion years old and that the Earth formed about 4.7 billion years ago.  We also know that the Earth has gone through many transformations before it became the water world that it is today, providing the opportunity for life as we know it.

We shouldn’t be startled at this transformation as today we can actually see the creation of new stars being born in our Milky Way and we can observe the death of old ones.  Naturally, new and existing stars bring with them the possibility of new and existing planets orbiting them.  And if there are planets it is only reasonable to believe that there is the possibility of life.

The possibility of life on other planets is hardly a new theory.  Most of the founding fathers believed that was likely.  Certainly, as Galileo looked through his newly improved telescope, it is likely that these thoughts ran through his head as well.  But while we may propose this theory, we in our time await confirmation through personal encounters with these beings from another world.  But do we have to scan our skies looking for them or is there ample proof left on Earth that visitors from other worlds met our ancestors in remote times past?

The “Ancient Astronaut” theory sets out to prove that such visitations occurred thousands of years ago.  There is so much evidence scattered through different parts of the world that can be explained through no other theory as to be convincing to even the most skeptical observer should he choose to consider it.

If you are not familiar with the extensive writings of Eric von Däniken, who is an investigative proponent of this idea. then you may at least be familiar with the series of the same title which the History Channel has aired over several seasons.  The series explores examples of remnants of ancient artifacts whose construction can in no way be explained other than that mankind had “help” in constructing them by someone who was technologically far more advanced than they – or for that matter than we are today.

In the historical records of ancient human civilizations there is constant reference made to “the gods” coming to Earth.  Remarkably, though separated by thousands of miles and with no possibility of interaction between those recording these events, the similarity between the authors’ descriptions is amazing.

Is this a matter of group hypnosis between different groups who did not even know of each other’s existence and were separated by thousands of miles – or is the more plausible explanation that these various cultures were indeed visited by extraterrestrials whom they had no better word to describe than “the gods”?

There simply is no theory that has been so far advanced that can better explain how the Pyramids of Egypt could have been constructed – or those of the Mayans in Central America.

How could the “primitive’ Mayans have produced temples that were clearly based on mathematical and astronomic principles that were so exact as to produce a calendar that is more accurate than our own?  How could they have fitted these massive blocks of stone together with such precision that we would, with all the technological advancements we have made today, be unable to duplicate them?  How could they have mined the stone itself with the simple tools available to them to the degree of precision that they achieved without help from a more technologically advanced civilization?  And to what purpose were these monuments built?

For years Homer’s “Iliad” was considered a work of fiction.  The book was passed down through oral tradition, not unlike the tradition of aboriginal peoples in America and New Zealand and Australia and South America.  However, when the book was finally committed to paper several hundred years after Homer’s death, its description of the location of Troy was sufficiently accurate to allow Heinrich Schliemann to uncover that city’s ancient ruins.

We prefer to think of descriptions of “gods descending in winged chariots from the heavens” as mere allegory.  But what other terms would a people who had never seen anything other than birds fly use to describe the descent of an alien spacecraft?  And when the same term is used in disparate parts of the world, when similar pictographs and drawing are carved depicting people who bear no resemblance to those who were the artists for these works, are we to dismiss them as the mere meanderings of the creative mind?  Have we returned to the theory of “mass hypnosis” – but if that theory is valid, who is the hypnotist?

It is hard for me as a rational and open-minded person (or so I like to think of myself) to believe that we have attained the summit of all knowledge.  It is hard for me to believe that the Creator whom I revere as omnipresent and omnipotent has chosen just one little spot at the edge of an ordinary galaxy to convey intelligent life to the exclusion of the rest of His entire universe.  It seems to me that doing so is to limit God whom we describe as limitless.  And if mankind was made “a little lower than the angels,” perhaps in time we will advance to that point that we have taken our place by their side.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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