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  • Posts Tagged ‘tremendous voyages’

    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!

    Surfing the nebulae


    2011 - 01.09

    Today I was checking out some hubble images at spacetelescope.org. This website just… boggles my brain every time I go. If the writings on this blog interest you at all, you owe it to yourself to go look at the 100 best images. Each one of them is worthy of poring over intensely.
    The Hubble telescope captured a display of starlight, glowing gas, and silhouetted dark clouds of interstellar dust in this 4-foot-by-8-foot image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300. NGC 1300 is considered to be prototypical of barred spiral galaxies. Barred spirals differ from normal spiral galaxies in that the arms of the galaxy do not spiral all the way into the center, but are connected to the two ends of a straight bar of stars containing the nucleus at its center.

    While looking at the above image of this barred spiral galaxy, I was daydreaming about what might be there. Even with the great detail in the picture, it’s quite difficult to make out individual stars. Most of the ones that do shine bright enough to distinguish are not likely the most interesting stars in this galaxy–it’s the sun-like yellow stars which blend into the background, invisible to our eye, which probably have the most planets, the densely populated orbits, and timescales conducive to the arising of intelligent life.

    When I look at a picture like that, there is no doubt in my mind, no doubt, that this galaxy, like our own, must certainly be chock full of interstellar travelers. Highly evolved forms of life plying the minerals of barren moons, trading with other species. Vibrant commerce. Nuanced cultures. Storied histories. As I stare into the clouds of stars swirling around, a multitude of emotions arises thinking about what might be there. Lament, knowing that I’ll never get to know or explore these places, even if only from the glow of a computer screen. Humility, at the fraction of an iota that is our world. Bewilderment, at the inconceivable scale of this one picture.

    Frustration at my fellow man, that we haven’t made exploration a priority, or for the many centuries that we slacked on science while imbibing the drug of religion. Or for the perennial refrain of ‘we need to fix our problems here first’.  I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that is a day which shall never come.  And besides, some of the answers to our problems will be discovered along the way into space.

    But I also feel more optimistic trains of thought when I look at these pictures. Wonder, at the vast unknown of what might be. Wild and deep wonder. Pride, that we have discovered this much, that we have these images to inspire us in the first place. And hope that someday our distant, distant descendants will someday begin their charting of the stars, drawing new maps of what’s out there and filling endless encyclopedias with their discoveries. And it’s also a bit reassuring to think that there are surely many races and civilizations out there already doing it. Surfing the nebulae. Circumnavigating the Milky Way. Having races, just for fun, around the obstacle courses of our cosmos.

    Oh how great it would be to join in such voyages.

    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.