Tuesday, March 01, 2005
  Is Anybody Out There?

An artist's impression of Titan's landscape, the only moon we know of in our solar system with its own atmosphere.

The irony of science in our never-ending endeavours to advance ourselves as a human race is that ultimately, science tells us we will eventually die. Everything we do as a human species is only to enhance our present lives and to "buy" time. My professor who was lecturing my class on Thermodynamics was speaking of the chaos theory and the universe. The theory is that energy will seek out an equilibrium amongst all systems in the universe until it is evenly distributed. And if I'm not wrong, that's when the universe stops expanding and starts shrinking. Then my professor brought up another point and asked us to guess the current temperature "out there" to which he exclaimed "about 2 Kelvins". For those oblivious to physics, Kelvins is a measure of temperature from absolute zero. Zero Kelvins meaning the system has completely no thermal energy. Nada.

I've always had some facination with space. Not in the Star Wars/Trek kind of way. And I'm not too sure how many people share this facination with me. The sky is one great window to everything else that is out there. And no one really notices it in our over-polluted cloudy skies these days. But when you are somewhere like Mount Ben Nevis in Scotland and you look up at the nightsky, it is truly awesome to see so many stars. It's like you gave your shitty window a wipe and only just noticed your apartment actually has a breathe-taking window view. A very out-dated window view given that all the light you see has travelled millions of light years to reach your naked eye. Space is facinating, mysterious and scary all at the same time. The great beyond so infinitely vast filled mostly with silence. It makes me wonder how strange it is to be alive and a member of the most intelligent species that we know of dominating this piece of rock that is a one in billion(s) chance of supporting the very miracle that is life itself. The infinite blackness of space itself symbolises how much of it is unknown and of course poses the long-lived question, is anybody else out there? We spend so much money globally investing in the search for alien lifeform. We build satelite dishes as big as football fields. Our space exploration ambitions grow as we send umanned crafts further and further out to space. Perhaps one of our greatest ambitions before we die out is to know that we are not alone. Space also somehow belittles us. There are awesome forces of magnitudes we cannot imagine such as black holes, stars exploding, and of course the thought of our very own sun dying out one day, which will shrink first and then expand in one giant red ball and engulf our planet with heat so great the oceans would vaporise instantly.

So it is often worrying to me that we take for granted this fragile miracle of a planet that has come so far to produce such a stable environment that deems us worthy to inhabit. CNN reports scientific findings that our average climate temperature is only about 1.5 degrees away from the 'point of no return'. I.e. the planet will see drastic climate changes and soaring temperatures that will most likely flood a lot of land, and turn what is left of it into desert. On the other hand, we will get to know what it feels like to have tropical weather in England. Maybe.

Further evidence that our future is bleak shows that our magnetic field is reversing. I.e. Our north pole and south poles are flipping! It's uncertain what the consequences will be for us although it is still likely that we would find a way to survive the timespan of anywhere between 5000 to 50 million years while the poles stabilise again. It is important to us of course, since the earth's magnetic field is responsible for so many things. Without it, you can forget satellite technology as they'd all drift out to space. It is also our shield from harmful radiation penetrating our atmosphere, which is also predicted to expand and thin out, causing high altitude sickness at near sea level. Anyway, it is also quite an interesting hypothesis as to why such large and heavy mammalian life forms were able to exist in the dinosaur age, a time when the magnetic field was predicted to have been 80% stronger than present day. All this talk of our magnetic field reminds me of that movie The Core, a sci fi (doomsday movie a bit like Day After Tomorrow) with pretty surprisingly accurate scientific documentation. A bunch of people travelling to the centre of the earth to "restart" the core based on the theory that the convection of hot molten magma under our earth's crust is responsible for our mangetic field. A bit like Jules Verne meet Day After Tomorrow.

Anyway, I'm tired of sounding like a dork. I have to take a break from being a dork. In other words, I have to go to bed. Then my day starts all over again in the morning. Heh. I shall leave with a link to this RedNova article if you're interested at all on what scientists have to say about what it'd be like to go surfing on Titan!

Ok. Dork shuttup now.
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