Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, August 26, 2016

Celestial Bodies Boding The Future

Those who enter into this sanctuary ought to be devoted without reserve to the service of Urania [Rosenfeld 2009]. She is the goddess for whom the astronomer is the priest, and for whom he produces "oracles" -- but the "oracles" are earned, wrought by his perseverance. He enjoys no respite but days sombre and sad, the moments when Nature adds to all his shadows that of clouds. His day is interrupted, sectioned by different observations. The Sun occupies the morning, midday, and evening. When that star disappears, the other planets and stars reveal themselves, heralding other work. Astronomers often share the work amongst themselves, but those who would embrace all astronomical duties require an iron constitution. It is necessary that the zeal for science awakens at the moments indicated in the night. It is necessary that the zeal for science wards off sleep, so that the astronomer is awake for the duration of the night. It is necessary that those watches recur, and that the astronomer sacrifice himself to the work following observing, and still observe the stars every night. It is necessary that the eye be attached to the refractor, and the ear to the clock, whether the body be upright, bent, or, as frequently happens, supine to observe the zenith. The cold of the night, winters, fatigue, and the dangers of insomnia matter not!
Jean-Sylvain Bailly, French astronomer, 1736-1793 ... (translation) R.A. Rosenfeld, RASC Archivist, The Journal of The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

To read that is to observe that the astronomer's lot is a heavy one, full of responsibility to science and astronomy, in a prodigious effort throughout the ages to discover the origin of the Universe and the Abiogenesis of all life forms, mysteries upon mysteries; how did nature formulate all that exists, and is there a why? and when did she decide in her infallible wisdom to create humankind, and if the Universe is endless, timelessly forever, surely there exist other highly intelligent beings capable of manipulating the natural landscapes into which they have been wrought into existence, and where are they?

Hypotheses abound over whether other life forms like ourselves exist,where they might find atmospheric conditions conducive to their origins and the level of intelligence they might achieve and their possible understanding of science and applications of technologies all their own. Might they be interested in humanity as it exists on Earth? Of course there is always the possibility that humankind suffers a particular type of hubris in considering itself intelligent to begin with; an observation uncertain to be shared by other life-forms.

Humans certainly seem to feel that if such life forms exist out there in the immensity of outer space we should know about their existence, and possibly make cautious and determined contact. Others feel the possibility that if intelligent life exists outside our solar system they might be intelligent enough not to make any overtures yet alone respond to ours, that would alert human life to their existence, after presumably examining human foibles.

But the search certainly goes on; in our times by radio-telescope and by search groups such as SETI, using powerful universal computer linkages and those tireless telescopes to try to detect any possible message that might be circulating in the upper atmosphere, possibly to float into our own, heralding other natural species whose existence would serve to answer that ages-old question: Are we alone in the Universe?

The latest discovery by astronomers and other scientists whose work on the Pale Red Dot project led them to the detection of a very small red dwarf star named Proxima Centauri, just over four light-years away from us, and a planet circling it with a mass similar to that of Earth's, and which has been named Proxima b, tantalizes with the prospect of life at a pittance of a distance from Earth.

If the right kind of propulsion technology were to be created by physicists and scientists and engineers, to be capable of sending a human being into the upper atmosphere and beyond in a determined effort to reach Proxima b, it would take the entire lifespan of that human to achieve. Yet
this distance is what astronomers consider to be the close distance, in a vastness where time and space is all stunningly relative.

A device named the High-Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher identified Proxima b, the new planet. A device capable of detecting light-spectrum shifts so infinitesimally minuscule it can be compared to movement similar to a metre per second in space. This turns out to be the perfect discovery scenario; a star small and cool, with a planet revolving around it betraying its existence by making that star wobble just slightly off its course at the approach and departure of the planet at its nearest approach during its orbit.

This planet just discovered, orbits every 11 days; Earth's orbit is much, much, much longer in duration. Astronomers are agog over the potential of a stable atmosphere that might invite the formation of an intelligent life form - actually any form of life. Astronomers are so devoted to their craft, it is the be-all and end-all of their existence. They seek to discover secrets of nature that might conceivably forestall the end of our existence.

Impressive stuff. That much brainpower working with that level of technology, peering into all-powerful Nature's intentions and devices.

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