Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Stars Our Destination II

The Times ran a front page story about “the most Earth-like worlds yet known in the outer cosmos, a pair of planets that appear capable of supporting life and that orbit a star 1200 light-years from here, in the northern constellation Lyra” (“Two Promising Places to Live, 1200 Light-Years From Earth,” NYT, 4/18/13). Naturally, perennially “space" conscious New Yorkers, with little experience of trying to locate space in outer space, will wonder if there is rent stabilization (before they even consider how stable the orbits of the bodies question are)? According to the Times both planets circle a star called Kepler 62  named "after NASA's Kepler 62 spacecraft, which discovered them” and are both “in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone of lukewarm temperatures suitable for liquid water, the crucial ingredient for Life as We Know It.” The prospect of affordable space and the citation of Goldilocks make the whole extraterrestrial discovery seem like a rather far flung fairy tale. Indeed getting back to life on earth, hardened Manhattanites would find it more improbable to come across an inexpensive rental than they would to achieve the near speed of light velocities necessary for a rocket ship to get there. But who knows what the future for space travel will hold. No one really understands what space is either in terms of the dark matter that holds things together, nor the dark energy the force which constantly causes things to expand. In studying the Higgs Boson, a basic component of matter, in the Large Hadron Collider scientists are only beginning to understand what happened in the milliseconds following the explosion which created life as we know it today. Did something come out of nothing? Or is there another explanation that still eludes us? When we begin to understand the highways and byways of space in the context of a unified theory which takes into context both the microcosm and macrocosm, will we discover the wormholes that we read about in sci fi and that will allow travellers to make quantum leaps through space/time?

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