Saturday, June 27, 2009

I Am a Geek and I Wear that Banner Proudly, even in Outer Space, even to the End of Time




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.. despite my previous post slamming the Intarwebs. Okay, so today Michael “Wacko Jacko” Jackson passed away. I have a story to tell that connects fond (and recent) memories of mine related to Jacko, but that will have to wait for another post. For now, the geek in me is itching to get this out in the open.

(On a side note, Farrah Fawcett died today too, but since I have this bizarre ability to be completely oblivious to the most mainstream pop concerns, I didn’t think much of that. RIP to the two of them, anyways).

I am a science fiction freak. I loved “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, I adore the old sci-fi greats and abhor the new ones, like Brian Herbert and his ilk. If I were to draw up a list of the three authors I would personally like to meet and talk to over a bottle of beer or so, it would have to be:

  • Charles Dickens
  • HP Lovecraft
  • Isaac Asimov

I’d include Arthur C. Clarke to the list, but Asimov takes precedence. And Ray Bradbury’s still alive, so there is still hope!

The point is, I love speculative science. And I love the concept of outer space, and life in other planets. When I read through the latter part of Asimov’s Foundation saga, I was enthralled to know that protagonist Golan Trevize was out to discover the wellspring of humanoid life – Earth. This is, of course, the reverse of our current situation, wherein we’re looking for the possibility of extraterrestrial life, or barring that, the possibility of relocating to another planet that will support our race. But there’s that feeling of the unknown, that sensation of a new frontier being explored, that makes Trevize’s search for a then-irradiated and lifeless Earth hit a chord that’s close to home.

Unfortunately for space geeks like me, though, the evidence pointing to life away from Earth (or Terra, as is the proper name of our planet, in the same way our sun is properly called Sol) has been very unfulfilling. There have been sightings of planets in neighboring galaxies that could theoretically support humanoid life due to the similarities – third planet, distance to their local star, centripital and centrifugal movement, planetary make-up as observed through a variety of telescopes that analyze substance through the emitted radio waves of a distant stellar object – but there have always been questions that pretty much dampen even the faintest hope that this could possibly be the next Terra. Not the least of which is this: how the fuck do we get there to make sure?

So yeah, it looks like the way thing are, we’re going to be stuck in our own little star system for the next two decades or so.

The good news is that it is in this system where we’ve found proof that against all odds, life on other planets aside from Terra is possible! The first big news came when the Phoenix Mars Lander reported a positive on finding ice on Mars last year. That ice was made of CO2, a compound that could ideally promote the growth of an ozone layer that could be vital in terraforming the red planet. But what’s more important here is that organisms could actually be living inside the ice, although that’s highly unlikely given the planet’s barren state.

A more interesting development occurred recently – and this time in the far-flung neighborhood of the outer planets. The Cassini spacecraft went on a fly-by mission along the outer atmosphere (for lack of a better word) of the Saturnine moon Enceladus. This moon, like Jupiter’s own Europa and Ganymede, is considered to be a planet completely surrounded by ice. The curious bit lies in its orbit – unlike other planets and heavenly bodies with a regular orbit, Enceladus has a comet-like tail of sorts. Last 2005, the Cassini probe flew past this “tail” and confirmed suspicions that it was something close to a consistent volcanic geyser of ice. Yes, I know that sounded stupid, but read it again and it’ll make more sense – there really is no other way to put it.

There’s a good explanation of why this was happening, and you can read more about it in the Time article where I picked it up from. What really interested me about this development was the ice’s composition. Unlike Mars’ own aqueous CO2 composition, Enceladus’ ice chunks were made up of NaCl and Na2CO3 (this is my best guess as to the carbonate compounds, since they weren’t specified).

Basically speaking, that’s table salt and soda. Forget CO2 and plants, forget the ozone layer. Out there, in the deepest reaches of the solar system, is a moon with a veritable internal ocean that’s pretty much made of the same thing as our own waters are made of. How awesome is that? This raises a whole new debate about the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, because if another planet can have water with basically the same composition as our own planet’s water supply, then the likelihood that similar organisms may exist inside that liquid is a little bit more possible.

Heck, you’re not even looking for humanoid life anymore. Even a microscopic organism’ll be enough. Life didn’t start out bipedal, after all.

I like this development, though. It fosters the imagination of every child who’d read through a “Choose your own Adventure” book at least thrice in his / her childhood. I’d like to believe, or dream, that in my lifetime, we would be able to colonize another planet, live in another location aside from Terra. I think, for me, that would be the ultimate adventure, and I wouldn’t mind dying on that distant planet so long as I am secure in the knowledge that I am, at last, stepping on soil that I could say was 100% alien.

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