Archive for ‘Astronomy’

s c o r c h e d

I attempt to locate the path hidden beneath my blistered feet, beneath layers of leaves decayed, beneath the surface of an aged and cracked earth.  I fling these words like fire against the ubiquitous black that plunges down from the void far above these trembling trees shaking with the canticles of cicadas, far above these scattered clouds glowing lucent in the dim moonlight, far above those distant and lonely stars.

I quicken my pace as I feel the weight of watching, of unblinking eyes hidden deep in the folds of a heavy night draped like a threadbare cloak swaddling distant and jagged peaks, entrenched in age and infused with fossils, those hardened echoes of struggles lived and forgotten and buried in perpetual darkness.

Orion AboveThe sharp crack of a branch long dead signals my advance as I cradle this brittle light that burns hot in my scorched hands, luminous words I scatter to the wind like fireflies that weave their way through the surrounding pitch if only to be witnessed—if ever so briefly—by others who sojourn these pathless woods as they attempt forge their own fires, their lined faces flashing transiently out of this ubiquitous darkness, framed in yellow flame as they look toward me and nod with the knowing of weary vagabonds searching desperately for destinations long vanished and vanquished by time.

The cicadas cease their bickering, and I stop to see those wide, greedy teeth, burning white before me against the flickering flames held in my hands.  Soon it will shed its cloak and cast itself forward to extinguish these words, these embers that glow and burn and perish beneath the void, this endless ballet in which only the death of reborn fire lives on.

363 Days

Image363 Days

New Year’s resolution?  Not to make any.

It’s a bit too late, since I already made a promise to myself to finish my second novel.  What can I say? I am a man of contradictions (not really [but sometimes]).

After sleeping off the New Year’s Eve hangover, I set up my laptop, surrounded myself with various caffeinated beverages, along with a few caffeinated needle injections to stave off a crash.  I turned on some background music and began pounding out the next chapter.  A few good ideas began to manifest themselves.  But progress was slow.  When I looked up from the screen, my cat was looking back, curled up in the corner of the room thinking to himself: ‘If I were bigger, I would eat you.’  I looked back at the screen.  I’d written about a page.  A page in three hours.

What was wrong?  More caffeine?  Maybe a change in background music?  I put on Omnium Gatherum’s latest album.  The growling vocals made me smile.  I even banged my head a few times at the laptop.  The cat stared at me with even more contempt.  Still no words. Those bastards can be elusive.  I sat back and turned up the music even more.  Sometimes it’s better not to think for a bit.

Screw New Year’s resolutions.  Who picks an arbitrary date to get shit done anyway?  Oh that’s right, we do.  I did.  I made a resolution and now nothing’s happening.  What the hell?

ImageMaybe it’s because we are all going to die this year In case you haven’t heard, a rogue planet (called Nibiru) will cut across our solar system at a right angle, throwing off the gravitational pull of the sun and knocking the Earth out of orbit, sending us hurtling into the void of space, our entire species frozen on a floating rock.  So what‘s the point of writing?  Unless… maybe we’ll be found by some advanced alien species.  They’ll thaw out our lifeless planet and set us up in a new solar system.  They’ll teach us quantum physics and share their advanced technology and tell us what the meaning of life is, and we’ll show them fried butter on a stick.  A whole new beginning.  Crap.  I just wrote a science-fiction novel.  A really bad one.

So, I turn up the grinding guitars and double-bass drums even louder (the cat has left the room by now, the pussy) and continue to pound away on the keyboard.  Fuck words.  I’ll drag them out by their entrails if I have to.

Back to work.  Only 362 days left to finish my resolution.  Make that 363.  The leap year gives me an extra day!

Of Aliens, Transmissions, and Violins.

So, we found a new planet 600 light years away, one of 713 confirmed exoplanets discovered so far—Kepler-22b.  It’s more than twice the size of Earth, takes 290 days to orbit its sun, and it sits in the Goldilocks zone—not too close to its parent star, and not too far away.  This means that if there is water on the planet’s surface, it’s in liquid form.    On Earth, where there’s water, even in extreme conditions, there’s usually life.

Soon, SETI will be pointing their satellites in the direction of Kepler-22b to listen for signs of life.

A plethora of assumptions:  Assuming there is life on that planet, and assuming this life is more advanced than our own, and assuming they transmitted radio signals at least six hundred years ago, we should be receiving their first transmissions any day now.

I wonder what those Imagetransmissions would be?  Perhaps a short question:  “Is anyone out there?”  Maybe someone ranting about their political climate, or about religious and civic strife, or about a massive economic crisis.  Maybe a TV show.  Maybe a bad TV show.  Maybe a reality TV show.  I hate to think what an alien species would think of Earthlings if all they had to judge us on was Survivor.

The first Earthly radio broadcast was on Christmas Eve in 1906.  Reginald Fessenden read the Christmas story from the Bible and played “O Holy Night” with on a violin.  This means in roughly 500 years, our potential alien friends will be serenaded by a violin and the story of Jesus’ birth.

A bit unsettling.   One of the greatest scientific accomplishments at the time, accompanied by a song calling for all to prostrate themselves before a child born of a virgin.  At the very least, our alien friends will be confused, perhaps a bit curious.  “Who is this Jesus, this Savior?” they might ask.  “Is he your leader?  Can we speak with him?”

Plenty of Earthlings would tell them who their “savior” is.  Many of those answers will contradict.  Arguing will ensue.  Fights will break out.  Perhaps another war.  While we are battling for ideas, our alien friends will quietly point their own SETI satellites in another direction.  “Give them a few more centuries,” an alien astronomer might say, “just until they stop arguing over whose god is greater.”

Of course, all of this is also assuming aliens from another planet can understand English in the first place—which is a pretty big assumption (and very arrogant for us to think so).

What would be worse is if their own religions, ethics, and philosophies mirrored our own.   In the words of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “If aliens are like us, then they should be feared.”

Indeed.  But if we did hear from Kepler-22b, what would we want to hear?

Duality

I love imagining what it would be like to live on other planets.  What if the Orion Nebula filled the sky each night—a giant specter spreading its gossamer wings over our heads?  Imagine if rings of fragmented rock tens of thousands of miles wide encircled the planet, rings that could be clearly seen during the day splitting the sky in half, ice crystals in the rings refracting the light in a beautiful spectrum of colors.  Or what if our planet orbited two stars?  How would that affect our mythos?  Our philosophies?  Our religions?  How would we define ourselves differently?

The latter cosmic phenomenon we don’t have to imagine anymore.  The Kepler probe discovered a planet (called Kepler-16b) that is part of a binary solar system.  This is the first empirical proof of a planetary body orbiting two stars.  Though only a gas giant (which makes watching a dual sunset from its surface a bit difficult), 16b brings up a host of possibilities—with intriguing implications.  Civilizations use physical environment to define their societies.  The Egyptians worshiped the sun god Ra.  On planet 16b, Ra would have a younger brother.  They would battle daily for supremacy of the sky, one occasionally eclipsing the other.  Moral lessons would perhaps be drawn from their cosmic duel:  “Though the two brothers fought throughout the day, in the evening they both came to rest on the same horizon.”  Monotheism would perhaps be an entirely alien concept (pun intended).
There are biological implications as well.  Life forms on that planet would probably be less sensitive to light, and be able to endure our hottest days of the year without any complaint.  And if a planet found itself orbiting between the two stars, there would be no night.  Eyes would never evolve to see in the dark (except for cave dwelling animals or creatures that lived underwater).

This is all speculation, of course.  But it emphasizes how physical circumstances play a large role in how not only our species evolves, but how our philosophies and religions evolve.  If I follow that line of logic long enough, I could argue that physical circumstances define purpose.  Meaning is a construct created as our experiences wind their way through physical circumstances.  The objects that surround us are more than just inanimate objects (what Jean-Paul Sartre called the thing-in-itself) existing solely outside of our consciousness.  They become part of us as we interact with them.  Existence is a duality between the mind and external objects.
I could stare at the concept images of 16b all day, imagining how different my life and our civilization would be if Earth orbited two stars.  I’m cynical enough to declare that our more malevolent behaviors would never be truncated by a change in scenery.  But I’m optimistic enough to concede that possibilities, future possibilities of individuals and of societies, can be created and destroyed by mere objects shifting our perspectives and playing a dynamic part in how we define ourselves.

Check out the NASA article about Kepler-16b: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/news/kepler-16b.html