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  • Posts Tagged ‘little mind-blowing things’

    Kepler’s Exoplanets, visualized


    2011 - 02.14

    Over at vimeo, there is this excellent video comparing sizes, temperatures and orbital distances of the 1236 planets (I thought it was 1235… now there’s one more!) discovered by the Kepler space telescope. The two highlighted planets are the ones most likely to have ‘habitable’ conditions.

    And this also merits an addendum to my previous Kepler post; all the planets discovered have orbits very close to their stars–just look at the position of Mercury in that video! Which means that all of them have fast orbits.

    Kepler hasn’t even begun discovering the planets that have slow orbits, farther away from their stars. I see only one single planet out of those 1236 that has an orbit wider than Earth’s. Just think what this Kepler work will reveal as the years continue to pass.

    Gorgeous Time Lapse, in HD


    2011 - 02.08

    Put on some cool tunes and check out this astronomical action. To watch it properly, you really should follow this link, go fullscreen, and hit the HD–it’s worth it. Seriously.


    Kepler, blowing it up right now


    2011 - 02.06

    Big cosmological news this week, huge news. More exciting than the arsenic bacteria, I think.

    The Kepler Space Telescope team has just released a dump truck’s worth of data on what they have seen. The short synopsis: 1235 new planets outside our solar system. There’s a lot of juicy details to talk about, but the main takeaway is that these 1235 new planets are just the tip, of the tip, of the iceberg. A small iceberg, in a vast sea of ice.


    So first the disclaimers: they need to gather more data to firmly verify many of these planets. But that disclaimer becomes a moot, scoffable footnote when you consider how they found these 1235:

    The Kepler Space Telescope has been floating in space, watching a specific group of stars, around 145,000 of them. The size of the group is roughly equivalent to the size of one’s fist held at arm’s length if you were looking up at the sky. Note here, the entire Milky Way has an estimated 100-400 billion stars. So really just a tiny little group is being looked at.


    The way Kepler detects a planet is by watching a star to see if it’s brightness dips, when something passes between the star, way far away, and the telescope, near Earth. Now this is a hugely important point: the odds of a planet just-so-happening to be in the perfect orbit that it would actually pass between its star and Kepler’s vantage point is less than a 0.5% chance. Those 1235 repeating brightness changes that Kepler saw are only the ones that beat the incredible odds of lining up perfectly for our convenience. There is no special law of the cosmos stating “planets must be aligned perfectly between their stars and the planet Earth.” These 1235 worlds are the ones that actually do obey such a ridiculous, nonexistent law.

    So what does it mean? That are abundant planets. Everywhere. As in, more of them than you or I can possibly imagine. Says Wikipedia: “Based on Kepler data, an estimate of around 100 million habitable planets in our galaxy may be realistic.” “HABITABLE.” As in, if we ever get our act together and figure out terraforming, we could go live there. And “PLANETS.” As in, ‘we’re not counting all the moons in orbit around the giant Jupiter-like worlds that could also be habitable too’. (For reference, Jupiter has 4 large moons, while Saturn and Neptune both have 1 large moon each. So these moons are common too.) I would call 100 million a conservative estimate.

    I’ll go back to that mind-blowing sentence from the “Cosmos: A Field Guide” book: “There are more galaxies in the universe than there are stars in the Milky Way.” Oh how that sentence delights me! Andromeda, our nearest galactic neighbor, is over twice the size of the Milky Way. Multiply the conservative 100 million habitable planets by a conservative number of galaxies in the universe, let’s say 170 billion, going again by Wikipedia (though this may be low). So if every galaxy were at least somewhat like ours with regard to the odds of planetary formation, or would grow to be like ours by the time we could ever reach it…

    100,000,000 x 170,000,000,000 = 17,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 17 Quintillion habitable planets in The Cosmos.

    Quintillion, ten to the eighteenth power, I actually had to look that up before I knew what it was. When’s the last time you heard someone use that in a conversation? I mean, is that even a number? Or is it just some bafflingly abstract word? Carl Sagan loved to say “billions and billions”; well one quintillion is what you get when you multiply one billion by one billion. I think he hit pretty close to the mark.

    Now I know what I just did there was wholly unscientific, and it’s way more complicated than just multiplying some numbers. The galaxies further away are younger and undeveloped, there’s so much we still don’t know, you can’t just multiply like that, I know, I know! But hear me out: the larger point is, that there is a universe out there ineffably vast and surprisingly accommodating to life as we know it. (never mind life as we DON’T know it!) My absurdly large 17 quintillion doesn’t consider moons either. If there is a non-zero chance of life arising, which there obviously is because we’re alive, I’d say it’s a pretty safe conclusion that, in the incomprehensibly wide expanses of this universe, life abounds.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    There’s an awesome interview with this guy Geoff Marcy over at Wired Science. Dude is like Mister Exoplanet. It probably says that on his business card. Out of the first 100 discovered, he was involved in 70 of those, and he is listed as a co-investigator with the Kepler telescope team too. He has a bunch of deeply thought provoking things to say, one of the largest of which centered around the question, how common is intelligent life in the galaxy?

    “What we need are big radio telescopes that hunt for radio signals. It’s not that much of a secret. But we don’t have the cultural, political will to fund a serious radio telescope to answer a question that every six-year-old asks. The telescope called the Allen Telescope Array, which is our greatest hope, is struggling. And for what? It costs $100 million. NASA’s budget is $19 billion. Less than one percent of NASA’s budget in one year is enough to fund this marvelous, epochal Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria – why aren’t we doing this?”

    Word.

    I suppose it will forever be the fate of the scientist to have their resources be dictated by the whims of bureaucrats who can’t be reasoned with. I’m sure the funding proposals for the Allen Telescope Array has taken many a red ink slashing on the desk of some idiot senator. This is one reason why I’ve decided (at least for now) not to write about politics on here. Seems like even when the so-called “good” guys are in control, foolish decisions are bound to be made and tantalizing opportunities are still squandered. I’d rather spend my time talking about things that inspire and fascinate me, rather than just complaining.

    Some more memorable quotes from Marcy, speaking about his early days, “Everyone seemed smarter than me. I felt a little bit like an impostor, like they haven’t figured out that I’m not as smart as them, that I’m not really smart enough to be a scientist. I thought okay, well now the jig is up. Maybe my career is over… I remember one morning in my apartment in Pasadena, as I took my shower, thinking, I can’t suffer like this anymore. I’ve got to just enjoy myself, do research that really means something to me… by the time I turned off the shower, I knew how I was going to end my career… by knowing I was a failure, I was free. I could just satisfy myself and hunt for planets–even though it was a ridiculous thing to do. At that time, I hadn’t heard of anybody actively hunting for planets.” When asked what people thought when he told them what he wanted to do, he says, “They were embarrassed for me. I might as well be looking for little green men, or how aliens built the pyramids in Egypt, or telekinesis.”

    I find those quotes both deeply moving and deeply inspiring. Anyone trying to do something great feels self doubt, whether it be something as modest as trying to make a painting, a film, find a job, or search for far away planets, against impossible odds. No matter how fucked up your life gets or how little you have to work with, you can always keep trying. Even if you fail a hundred times, you can always try again. I mean, here he is, talking about these 1235 new planets–what a triumph, what an utter victory! That moment is like solid gold, you can put that in a museum, in a spotlight on top of a Greek column. He’ll be getting a steady stream of congratulations in the mail as the months go by, and even if they never hear his name, people for millennia will look back on the time when we started discovering exoplanets as one pivot point in the enlightenment of the scientific & astronomical communities. A pivot point in the awakening of our species to our place in the cosmos. Maybe someday there will be a Geoff Marcy Space Telescope.

    And to think it all goes back to that one moment in the shower, when he was wracked with despair that, maybe this whole pipe-dream of being a scientist just wasn’t going to happen. Maybe I’m just not good enough, he thought. And then another part of him said, ok, look, maybe there are these other people with their unreachable masterpieces, who will always look down on the smallness of what I am trying to do. Maybe I can never join those ranks. But I’ve GOT to keep TRYING to do my thing.

    I wish the telescope could be named after whatever voice in that man’s mind told him that. The voice that says hey, even if your life’s work amounts to little more than some footnote in the annals of much more important discourse, that’s still something. And you should do that little something. I kinda got a bit emotional when I read those quotes, because it’s such a meaningful discovery–what that number of planets signifies about our own world’s role in the historical canon of the larger universe–and it had such humble, awkward beginnings. He was just a nut, some loony youngster trying to do something only a fool would devote their time to. Well who looks stupid now?

    The whole thing kind of underscores the nature of our collective quest to gain understanding of who we are in the cosmos. Those people who devote their lives to helping answer the biggest of questions are looked on like oddballs on some idiotic quest. What’s the point of spending our tax money on this stuff, most people ask? So you found some planets. I could’ve told you they were out there. We gotta pay for these fighter jets and build new churches. That’s the important stuff, needs them dollars today.

    It is an embarrassment, how unable we are to muster resources toward figuring out the big questions. All cynicism aside, maybe it’s just a problem of inadequate education about the wonder of the universe, or the inherent difficultly in succinctly communicating how this immediately affects us all, here today….  maybe it’s time I made a SETI donation.

    The Spiritual Uplift of Infinity


    2011 - 01.30

    Part one: Immensity

    One of the most endlessly fascinating human concepts is the idea of infinity. It’s a concept that is referenced often, but seldom do we get the occasion to sit and deeply contemplate the idea. There are so many ways in which infinity is a breathtaking thought. Let’s delve into it!

    The marvel which immediately comes to mind is the size of it. I think of a hundred as a big number. If I have 100 blueberry muffins, I’ve got more breakfast food than I could possibly eat. The refrigerator is going to be full, and even then, some of these things are probably winding up in the garbage. As much as I hate to see anything go to waste, and as much as I love eating a fluffy blueberry muffin, I simply cannot eat 100 of them. So 100 is a lot.

    Stepping up one order of magnitude, if I had 1000 muffins, now I would have to start giving them away. There would be boxes everywhere. Definitely not enough space in the fridge and freezer combined, and now I think I never want to eat another muffin again. Even the ones with the sweet crunchy tops. Iew. If I had 10,000, now we’re dealing with a disaster. The landlord is incensed with the gargantuan piles spilling out all the doors, and there’s probably not much room to walk through the house. At 100,000 muffins, I would probably get killed. Squeezed to death by the immense force needed to cram so many into one house. Even when you compress all the air out of that fluffy goodness, we’re looking at some dangerous volumes.

    But to a lot of people 100,000 is still not that big of a number. What about a million? That number gets tossed around like nothing. A million bucks for a mansion. A million oranges in a large plantation. 310 million people living in the United States. It’s a big country. But there’s almost 7 BILLION people living on planet Earth. 310 million US residents is not a lot of people compared to the 7 billion world population. We’re only 1/22nd of the total amount.

    A billion, now that’s a really big number. The sun and the earth both formed about 4.5 billion years ago. The universe itself is estimated to be 13.75 billion years old, with a visible size of 46 billion light years. So big, you can no longer grasp how large that is. There’s easily over 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. That’s more galaxies than even the widest, boldest mind can imagine. But there are bigger numbers still. And yet, the sizes of all these things are insignificant next to the size of infinity. A hundred billion is exactly the same distance from infinity as the number one. That’s the wonder of infinity!

    Just for fun, let’s keep going. The number of bits available for storage on my 1.5TB hard drive, 12 trillion. The US national debt is currently 13.75 trillion. A hundred dollars for every year in the age of the universe! The number of neural connections in the human brain is over 10^14. There’s over 70 sextillion stars in the observable universe. That’s 70×10^21. 10^80 elemental particles present in the observable universe. Google, now a household word, is an alternate spelling of googol, which is the number 10^100. Written out, that’s:

    Ten followed by a hundred zeros. But there’s even bigger numbers still! A googolplex is 10^10^100. In a scene from Cosmos, Carl Sagan humorously shows how it’s not possible to write out a googolplex because it’s simply too big–it wouldn’t fit inside our universe! Those 10^80 particles are simply insufficient for the task, even if one particle was used to represent one zero. And still, there are even larger numbers than the googolplex. Even dramatically larger numbers. But still, the idea persists that even the largest number conceivable is precisely the same distance from infinity as the number one.

    Pt.2: Park it wherever you like

    I’d like to talk a little bit about another fascinating property of infinity that gives me a lot of optimism and joy. When we think about infinity, my mind at least goes straight to the large: the vastness of the cosmos and the unending progression of time. But for all the giant spaces infinity implies, there are implicit minuscule ones as well. When we count from 1 to 2, we think of that as a finite interval. It’s easy to see, if I have one apple and you give me a second one, now I have two, a finite number of apples. I definitely don’t have infinite apples. (Although I wish I did.)

    But for every number you can name between one and two, I can give you a number that’s halfway between your number and one. You say 1.5, I say 1.25. You say 1.1, I say 1.05. You say okay wiseguy, how about 1.000001? I reply 1.0000005. We can start using scientific notation and continue this volley–until forever. And just like that, we’ve slid down the chasm into infinity, INSIDE the space between one and two. Infinity can exist inside of finite boundaries, because of the idea that in addition to being endlessly large, infinity is also endlessly small.

    This idea has tremendous philosophical ramifications. When we lay outside under the stars at night and gaze out upon the universe, the sheer scale of ourselves, compared to it, can really seem bewildering. Stupefying. Daunting. Maybe even a bit disheartening. We realize how utterly tiny we are. And how the vast spaces beyond our planet will never know our names, our histories, or the fruits of our lives work. The collective plight of our entire species will likely be a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a blink in the scale of our own galaxy alone, nevermind the cosmos. We glimpse the scope of the large infinity and all the treasure we hold special suddenly seems not just petty, but outright laughable. When our train of thought goes so far down that track, infinity seems to be a source of despair, pointlessness.

    It is in this moment we need to remind ourselves that the grandiose richness of detail, subtlety, and surprise that large infinities encompass is also fully present within the infinities of the small. And these infinities of the small reside within our familiar finite spaces. Holding two apples, one in each hand, you can hold the entire cosmos between your fingertips. That same infinity up in the sky at night is right here, literally in our hands, available to be reshaped, to be studied, played with, laughed about, and to reshape us with its own, bottomless insight. This idea of infinity, so breathtaking in immensity, is right here with us, a trove of eternal possibilities for inquisition.

    It’s a mathematical proof for the idea of interconnectedness. Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Buddhist, eloquently muses upon the idea of oneness using a single tree within the larger world:

    A tree is very beautiful. A tree to me is as beautiful as a cathedral. Even more beautiful.
    I look into the tree and I saw the whole cosmos in it.
    I saw the sunshine in the tree. Can you see the sunshine in the tree?

    Yeah, because without the sunshine, no tree can grow.
    I see a cloud in the tree. Can you see? Without a cloud there can be no rain, no tree.

    I see the Earth in the tree–I see everything in the tree.
    So the tree is where everything in the cosmos… come into.
    And the cosmos reveals itself to me through a tree.

    Therefore a tree, to me, is a cathedral.

    It inspires me so very deeply to think that infinity can be bounded within a finite space. It inspires me to think that the potential for limitlessness is anywhere you look. The comprehensive vast ‘everything’ is right here. All around us, within our hands, and inside of us. Exactly like Thich Nhat’s tree, we can look into ourselves, we can look between our hands, we can look…wherever we want, and see the whole cosmos.

    Putting things in perspective: Neat!


    2011 - 01.24

    So I was flipping through the “Cosmos: A Field Guide” book tonight and decided to stop on the comets page while I ate my dinner.  I read over the text and checked out the photos, saving the captions for last.  There’s a large (read: 17″x14″) full page image of a comet that is quite a nice shot, which I admired it for a while as I finished up my sandwich.  I read over the captions for the other 5 comets pictured, which had orbital periods ranging from 5.5 years (Comet Tempel, the target of the Deep Impact Spacecraft) up to 76 years (Halley’s Comet).  Cool.  Then moved over to read the caption for the full page image.  It’s name (awesomely) is Comet “Neat”! Hah!  Here is the photo:

    Then I read the caption.  Orbital period for this comet?  THIRTY-SEVEN-THOUSAND YEARS.  I had to double check the number–did that really say 37,000 years?… oh.  I guess that’s right.

    That’s wild.   The last time this thing plunged into the inner solar system, mankind had just migrated to Australia and Europe for the first time.  And we were at the Cro-Magnon stage in our evolution.  The next time this comet will return to our inner solar system?  Humans will have long ago evolved into something new.  Thirty Seven Thousand is such a bafflingly large timescale.

    How many historical figures can you name from over a thousand years ago?   Three thousand?  Five?  Fifteen?  In 37,000 years, us, and everyone we ever met will be completely forgotten about, and the particles which made up our bodies will long ago have decayed and been recycled into Earth, possibly even having been incorporated into several new organisms by then.  If there are some descendants of today’s homo sapiens that have survived, they wont’ call it the year 39,xxx AD–today’s popular mythologies will all have died out long ago.  Just like today’s date is not measured in years related to Zeus, Odin, or Ra, the ancient Egyptian sun god.  I wonder what gods the Cro-Magnons worshiped?

    Check out NASA’s site with this cool interactive ‘orbit diagram’ that shows the positions all the planets and the comet as it traveled through space.  If you line up the solar system on it’s axis and hit play to watch the comet slide by, you’ll notice that it doesn’t even pass through the orbits of any planet.  In it’s moment closest to the sun it picks up a lot of speed for a brief moment too.  We should’ve gone all ‘deep-impact’ and launched a satellite to travel to the comet… it could have landed and rode along for the ride out to the oort cloud.  What a journey?!

    Wave goodbye kids!

    “oh, by the way”


    2011 - 01.14

    The 1750s brought the advent of the “Island Universe” hypothesis. Real science for the acceptance of this theory began building in 1912. The debate was heated, until the 1920s when Edwin Hubble, with the aid of the world’s largest telescope, proved the existence of “Island Universes”. The central epiphany of this theory? That there are other galaxies outside our own.

    It has still been less than a single century since we began to grasp our own position in space.

    I’ve been slowly working my way through the gigantic book Cosmos: A Field Guide which I got for christmas. As a source of stimuli, it’s provoked a lot of thought and given me inspiration to write about the resulting ideas here on this blog. It continues to be a wellspring of mind-bogglement. There’s the images within it, which are worthy of staring at for a long time and letting your mind wander, and there’s also the text which has an almost-humorous way of slipping in wild information in a matter-of-fact tone.

    Maybe to the people who would write such a book, the facts it contains would be concepts taken for granted. Like the previously mentioned quote:

    Just think about that one. Really think about what that means. If that doesn’t blow your mind entirely, I have no idea what could.

    And these incredible revelations are inserted randomly, almost like throwaway anecdotes or afterthoughts to the images. A little, “oh, by the way” slipped in. Oh by the way, there’s more galaxies in the universe than there are stars in the Milky Way. I was going to just keep quiet and let you enjoy the pictures, but this little trivial factoid came to mind so I thought I’d let you know. Pffft.

    I came upon another doozy last night: When naming places in space, there are conventions which are typically followed, to differentiate between categories. Below is an image of a place called “47 Tucanae” which was so named because in the day it was first cataloged, it was believed to be a single star. In time, better telescopes revealed that this point of light was not a single star, but a globular cluster; possibly the ancient remains of a galaxy that once was. It’s composed of over a million stars.

    Over a MILLION. The first time we saw it, we thought it was only one star. One. Turns out it’s a million of them. At least. That’s six orders of magnitude larger. A million is a number which is hard to visualize. It’s far, far too large for someone to count these stars by hand. No doubt the number was calculated by mass computations, image analyzing software, or some other novel method. It’s comical how wrong that first assessment was. And not that the man with the inadequate telescope wasn’t trying–far from it–he simply didn’t have the vision to see.

    But this little observational mistake meaningfully captures something for me; it’s emblematic of the vastness of the universe, of our smallness within it, and most of all, of our feeble ability to see it for what it truly is. The Earth, which we once thought to be flat, is most definitely round. The heavens, which were once thought to orbit around the Earth, have entirely independent trajectories. And a place that we once thought was a single star turns out to be over a million stars.

    It’s a zen reminder that for all the mountaintops we climb, there are even loftier peaks beyond, obscured by the slopes we have yet to conquer.

    One billion trans-cosmic years in love


    2010 - 12.08

    Recently I’ve been watching the series “Cosmos” co-written by Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan.  The fascinating concepts it conveys and thoughts it provokes are a whole wild series of tangets that I am not even going to be touching upon today.  Somehow I managed to avoid being exposed to Cosmos until I reached the age of 30.  In a way, I’m grateful for this circumstance; watching over the last months, Cosmos brought together all of these compartmentalized facts that I had already known into one coherent ‘big picture’, artfully told by a brilliant and inspiring man.  It’s intensely emotional and intellectual in the same breath.  Not having seen this series until my 30s, it has impacted me that much more dramatically.  Forcefully.  Profoundly.  I’m not certain there is a right word.  Let’s just say “Superlatively.”

    It is hard not to be swept up by Carl’s eloquence and enthusiasm, and the whole scope of Cosmos just feels so deeply meaningful.  Those words seem to fall short of conveying the emotions which this saga has elicited from within me.  It’s a bit like meeting a new person who you are so strikingly in agreement with that every syllable they speak just makes you want to say “Yes.  Yes; That.  Yes.”  You want them to keep going, and you concur so much that other words would just get in the way.

    After finishing the series, and wistfully wishing there were more, I went online and read about the stories of Ann and Carl, these fascinating new characters who’ve permeated my consciousness so resoundingly, as if they have always been a part but I had never known.  I was astonished to read the story on NPR of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project; particularly the portion of the story which explained how Ann had been involved in the creation of two gold records which were sent into space with the Voyager probes.  These records were meant to contain a representative sampling of the whole breadth of the human exerience.  The magnitude of this undertaking can scarcely be grasped.  The resultant records contained samples of music from many cultures, various spoken languages, greetings to potential space-faring civilizations who may someday intercept the probe, and perhaps most interestingly, a recording of brain waves.

    Ann Druyans’s brainwaves were recorded for the records, and what gives this whole story such an unbelievable spin is the context under which it happened.  In another interview recorded with Ann, she tells the story of how her and Carl fell in love.  Apparently the two had known each other and worked together professionally for some long time, but had been romantically involved with other people.  This pair harbored a deep admiration for one another and had what Ann describes as “wonderful, soaring conversations” but had never crossed the divide into romance.

    So much of love centers around timing.  Is this person available?  Are they emotionally available?  Do they have these big personal goals that are going to dominate their priorities and prevent a love from ever blooming?  Timing.  And one day toward the conclusion of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project, it sounds like the time alignment of Ann and Carl magically snapped into place, over a phone call of all things.  That in itself is a chronicle of how major life events can strike at any time, in the most unexpected of ways.

    She doesn’t elaborate much about what exactly was said in that fateful telephone conversation, and indeed I’m certain a large part of it was a blur as soon as the reciever returned to the hook.  But by the end of that phone call the two were engaged.  When she hung up the phone Ann says she literally screamed out loud, in what felt like, “this great eureka moment, it was just like scientific discovery.”  (The fact that she would equate the fireworks of such a moment to one of scientific discovery, I find quite humorous, and heartwarming from someone with a noteworthy nerd-streak of my own.)  Moments later Carl called back to ask, “just want to make sure, that *really* happened?”  Of course the answer was yes, and so began the love affair of Ann and Carl.

    So just two short days after this momentous, powerful occurence, Ann traveled to Bellvue Hospital in New York to have the sounds of her brain waves recorded for the golden records which were to be sent off into space.  While she meditated and the ECG machine recorded the electrical impulses firing in her mind, she says part of what she was thinking was “about the wonder of love, and of *being* in love…”  Certainly two days after not only professing your love to someone new for the first time, but simultaneously becoming engaged to be married, any person’s mind would be fully awash with an overpowering elixir from that puppy-dog variety of freshly bursting affection.  In the song “The Real Thing”, arist EMO muses “there’s nothing like the real thing, when love is increasing.  There’s nothing like the real thing when it comes to you”.  Undoubtedly, experiencing this feeling is one of the most uncontrollably thrilling and gloriously consequential moments of the human experience.  Ann adds, “and to know it’s on those two spacecraft!  Now, whenever I’m down, I’m thinking: And still they move.  Thirty five thousand miles an hour, leaving our solar system, for the great, wide open sea of interstellar space.”

    As a message in a bottle, floating in that sea of interstallar space, what a romantic and grandiose moment to encapsulate for discovery epochs and epochs later by who knows who.  It gives me great joy to know that these two people, who seem not only so exceptionally intelligent but also so gifted with the ability to masterfully communicate nuanced truths about our universe as we see it, are serving as the trans-galactic ambassadors to whomever recovers the Voyager message.

    Meanwhile back on Earth, we’ve had buffoons like George W. Bush leading the free world, the uncultured dreck of reality television beaming through our bodies at every moment, and the painful missteps of so many religions polluting our collective minds–Yet still!–a capsule floats, out through the great beyond, carrying a snapshot of thoughts from one of our most brilliant minds, upon the marvel of that which is best within us; our emotion of love.  Binding us together and inducing us to cherish the value of our mutual existences.

    It give me joy.  And hope that our most articulate, clairvoyant voices shall be the ones which rise to prominence.  When these two probes fly out to the vast unknown, it would be irresponsible to put anyone but our best representatives on duty to greet those who they encounter.

    Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan are on the case.

    And.  Rightly.  So.


    Epilogue

    While daydreaming about this all, I’ve been listening to the song “The Reason” by Soulstice.  This piece of music conveys, for me, what it’s like to be so deeply in love with someone.  “You’re the reason/So beautiful and full of bliss/my little piece of happiness/You’re the reason” More than the lyrics though, it’s a lovely track instrumentally, and an inspired vocal performance.  I tend to be a harsh critic of vocalists, prefering instrumental music on the whole, but this track really captures something.

    I enjoy thinking about the love between Carl and Ann.  Especially because their delight in one another is the interstellar sample of human affection, captured in Ann’s brainwaves on the Voyager spacecraft.  The shelf life of those gold records was designed to be one billion years.

    One billion years.

    That love will keep enduring for for a thousand, million years, out in the cold emptiness of space.  And in every second of that time it will be just as fresh as it was when it was two days young.  I hope that some intelligent species happens upon it, with the technology to decode Ann’s thoughts.  What will they think when they read her mind?  Maybe they will be moved to the extra-terrestrial equivalent of tears.  Maybe they will find it naive and judge our species ripe for subjugation.

    Or perhaps humankind will be long, long extinct, and that battered voyager spacecraft with its gold record will be the only remaining fraction of a fraction that’s left behind from our collective plight.  They’ll place it in a galactic museum with a set of headphones far better than humans ever built, for the citizens of future advanced civilizations to stop, stand, and spend a small moment listening to the love story of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan; two creatures from an obscure planet destroyed eons ago that somehow, by complex forces of nature or random happenstance, managed to transmit this poetic instant out across the cosmos; a beautiful ballad of love that defied the slow decay of millenia, and returned some miniscule portion of their beings to the stars for which they held such wonderment.  If this is all that remains behind when we’re gone, I think that’s a pretty good note to go out on.