Sunday, April 6, 2008

4-6-08: Astronomy Domine

I've been watching this show called "The Universe" on the History Channel for months now. It's fascinating stuff. It covers a variety of topics, including nebulae and even some astrophysics stuff. The first season mostly covered the Solar System, but they've gone into some other interesting stuff recently.

One of my favorite RSS feeds in my Google Reader account is the "Astronomy Picture of the Day" on the NASA site. It's just awesome stuff. I highly recommend it. You get to see some of the best pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope and others. My personal favorites are the nebulae out there. Just amazing how big those sons of bitches are! They're light years in length. Just imagine being in a huge cloud of dust and shit that is that long. Just for reference, one light year is 5,865,696,000,000 miles. (Source: That's about 5.9 trillion miles. Our Sun is about 93,000,000 miles away from Earth.

I think one reason why so many people become interested in astronomy is the scale of it all. You simply can't picture how big the universe is. And it's only getting bigger, faster. I think one of the reasons why we search for life is that we simply can't imagine being the only living beings out there. In all likelihood we're not the only lifeforms like us, but there's less and less of a chance that we'll ever meet those people.

Just think of it like this: mankind in its current form has been around for something like 10,000 years. We have yet to achieve interplanetary travel, but we'll probably reach Mars within the next 25-30 years. Now let's say our "window of opportunity" is 50,000 years. It's probably way more than that, but let's say it's that. How far will we be able to travel? The laws of physics limit our speed, and we'd likely need to go light years to find another life form like ours. And we'd have to figure out how to talk to them! And what if they exist right now, what's to guarantee they'll be around by the time we have the technology to reach them? Sure, we're sending signals out to space every day, but within a few light years from Earth they become so weak and scrambled that they are meaningless. It's not likely we'll see something like in the movie Contact.

But what if we did? What if we found life out there? Intelligent life, mind you. Obviously, we'd need to find any form of life first. That's like an appetizer for our hunger. Get us warmed up; get our hopes up.

It really blows my mind thinking about this shit. By the way, the title of the post is actually a Pink Floyd song off The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Great album. The guy who wrote the song, Syd Barrett, went insane and virtually disappeared for years. That was early Floyd.

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