Friday, October 16, 2009

Reaching for Exoplanets

Exoplanet photo from the Enersec website

Bede's current fascination is with exoplanets, also known as extrasolar planets. I've always been excited by the possibility of planets outside our solar system and life on those planets. Now that the scientists of planet Earth have actually discovered over 300 exoplanets with an estimated hundred billion just in the Milky Way galaxy, I don't feel elated. I'm actually a little depressed about them. Expense and duration of space-travel aside, the radiation from solar-flares make human space-travel so far out of reach.

Speaking of the duration of space-travel, is there anyway we could hurry up the wormhole technology or whatever it's going to take in order to travel great distances? We won't see proper photos of Pluto for another 5 1/2 years, but at least there's a good chance I'll see them in my lifetime.

I'm not much of a traveler here on Earth. I'd always dreamed of visiting different places, but I don't even like to drive the car over the bridge to Puget Sound's East Side. Still, there is something within that is akin to an ache for humans to travel through space. The premise of Sylvia Louise Engdahl's early books was that every civilization reached a critical point where they would choose either to focus their energies on space travel or on destroying each other. On some level, I still believe that as well.

I remember the first time I heard Carl Sagan utter the words, "The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be." I was eight or nine years old. At the time, I had no idea that Sagan was an atheist, and I would have been incredulous had you told me. It gave me shivers that were part expectation, part longing. When I looked at the night sky, and rather than feeling insignificant, I had a glimpse of Albert Einstein's "sensation of the mystical":

The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.

Since this is Poetry Friday, it is fitting to end with the two most vivid lines from the poem about the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, The Old Astronomer to His Pupil, by Sarah Williams:

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.


Melangell said...

Oh, yes! I am so very grateful to live in a place where I can see the stars vividly at night. Many times when I wake up in the night with the stars overhead, I find myself singing the song with the lines that you quoted (I wish I could find the music - it is a haunting round). I am not fearful of the night (usually) but sometimes I feel an awe-ful terror at the literally incredible magnitude of the universe.

Lone Star Ma said...

The man Tycho Station will one day be named for...

I suppose I am too old to ever colonize Titan now. I would have been a great colonist, though - I would have had lots of Titanian babies and learned how to farm hydroponically or something similarly useful. Now, I think we'll just have to focus on rebuilding a sustainable Earth....

Jules at 7-Imp said...

WHOOOOOAAAA. I am in love with this post. You (and Sagan and Einstein) have perfectly captured the wonder I felt as a child. I used to just SIT and wonder at the universe and its grandness and wonder what it would look like if it had an end and then wonder at the wonder of it being so HUGE (and, likely, end-less).

Thanks for this. I still have that wonder, no question, but I can't quite ever match how strong it was when I was wee.

Saints and Spinners said...

Thank you, all! I'm glad you understand.