Monday, December 28, 2009

We Are Not Alone, #9

"We have not been visited by others because the distances are too great", is often used by the pessimists as an argument against visitors from other worlds. If the human race had accepted all the limitations placed on us down through the ages, we would still be huddled in caves, beating on rocks and complaining that we were never gonna' get basic cable. For thousands of years we "knew" that the world was flat, we "knew" that the sun and the stars revolved around Earth. Just because we haven't mastered a new technology, let's not place our limitations on others who may be thousands or millions of years older and more advanced than we.

For thousands of years man believed the best way to get from A to B was to walk. Then someone decided that if we can catch one of those beasts and make it behave, then we could ride and get there quicker and we began to domesticate animals. For centuries if we wanted to travel from A to B we were stuck with the wheel and the sail. Eventually someone noticed that if you make water real hot the steam would produce enough energy to blow the lid off the pot and a way was found to harness the steam and the steam engine gave birth to the industrial revolution.

Behold the bumble bee. According to the greatest minds in science. The bumble bee is too short, too fat and its wings are too small, it simply can't fly. Aerodynamics says it is impossible. The most powerful computers in the world all come to the same conclusion, it can't fly. So how is it that we see these marvelous wee creatures buzzing about? Simple, they ignore the great minds, the skeptics and the super computers and it goes about the business of being a bee. Its little bee brain doesn't accept the limitations that have been placed on it and it flies.

Richard Bach wrote in his great novel, ILLUSIONS; "Argue your limitations, and sure enough, they're yours." Where would we be as a society if some stubborn oppositional people hadn't challenged the conventional wisdom of their day? Two bicycle mechanics from Ohio, ignored the experts and built a flying machine and Orville and Wilbur gave the world air travel. A housekeeper in Montgomery, AL. refused to move and give her seat to a white passenger, and Rosa Parks became known as the Mother of the Modern Civil Rights Movement, helping to abolish the cruel Jim Crow laws.

The skeptic says; "We have not been visited by others because the distances are too great". Let's explore that. Do we believe that we are the pinnacle of evolution and that we are the end-all of universal knowledge? Do we think that they too are stuck with our internal combustion engines and rocket technology? The United States is now planning a new lunar mission in preparation for a manned mission to Mars in a few years. Although that is a giant step for mankind on earth, it might look like baby steps to our older brothers. Using the best of the best, NASA says that it will take 214 days to reach Mars. A few years ago, an un-manned probe reached the moon in the record breaking time of 8 hour and 35 minutes. The Apollo missions took about 76 hours to reach the moon.

Our nearest neighbor, a star system that could have planets similar to earth is the Alpha Centauri System. It is approximately 4.4 light years from earth; or if we could travel at the speed of light it would take us four years and about five months. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. At the speed of light it would take about 5.5 hours to travel across our solar system. The distance that light travels in one year is 5.9 trillion miles and it takes 8.3 minutes for light from the sun to reach the earth.

I have already gotten myself in way over my head. Science has always fascinated me even If I wasn't very good at it. I think it has something to do with my lack of focus or my dislike for mathematics. I am not a scientist and don't want to mislead you into thinking that I know more than I actually do. All of these impressive numbers are available to any and all with a simple web search. I can't begin to get my head around the actual distances that one would need to travel to visit our nearest neighbor. But what I do know, is that just 75 years ago, most scientist believed that to go faster than the speed of sound would be impossible. This arbitrary barrier was officially broken by Chuck Yeager on October 14, 1947 as he piloted the Bell X-1 aircraft, flying at a speed in excess of 761 mph at an altitude of 45,000 ft.

Today, scientists are accelerating particles to near the speed of light with the Large Hadron Collider in an attempt to unlock the secrets of the "deepest laws of nature." Several physicist are claiming to have found loopholes in quantum theory, a general theory of how particles fit together to create matter. Scientists are questioning Einstein's theory of relativity and are once again stretching and expanding our knowledge of our universe. Perhaps we too, are on the eve of developing a new source of energy. Our combined scientific knowledge doubles every few years and that rate is increasing so let's just cool our jets a minute and concede that the guys next door just might have some of the big problems already figured out.

That is not too hard to imagine. On a clear day I can travel at the speed of thought to some faraway place and never leave the room.

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