How Do We Get There?

Source: Space.com

So scientists have discovered what might be the first ever exomoon, a moon around a planet in another solar system, and that’s exciting because within our own solar system moons have become the place to look for life outside of this planet. Specifically Europa and Enceladus may be homes for extraterrestrial life; worlds with big sloshy oceans and hot cores hidden under a thick layer of ice, which means that if there’s life there it may never have seen the stars. It may not have any awareness of life beyond its own world. And if you know your Douglas Adams you know what that could mean for life, the universe, and everything.

The reason they why they had never thought to themselves “We are alone in the Universe,” was that until one night, they didn’t know about the Universe.
Imagine never even thinking, “We are alone,” simply because it has never occurred to you that there’s any other way to be….
They flew out of the cloud.
They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.
For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned round.
“It’ll have to go,” the men of Krikkit said, as they headed back for home.

Or it might not be so bad. With the discovery of every new exoplanet, or even considering the possibility of life beyond our little blue sphere, my first thought is always, how do we get there? Because even if you barely know anything about astronomy you know that the universe is really big and that means there’s a lot of, well, space, between us and even our closest neighbors. Consider this: it takes eight minutes for sunlight to reach us and if you’ve ever looked at the sun you know how close it is. Also you should never look at the sun. It takes thirteen minutes for that same sunlight to reach Mars, and it takes a really long time for any sunlight to hit Uranus, but that’s another story.
It takes more than four years for that same sunlight to reach our nearest stellar neighbor, and that’s how big space is. Getting there seems like an insurmountable challenge, but we’ve been exploring the local solar system for less than a century. And as for the question, where are the aliens? we’ve barely begun to even look. Even if they use the same radio frequencies we do their transmissions are going to be limited by the same speed and distances as ours. Space exploration has already spanned generations and will have to take several more–it took Voyager 1 thirty-five years just to leave the solar system, traveling at about 38,000 miles per hour, and even if it doesn’t get pulled over for speeding it’s going to be a really long time before it reaches another solar system.
If we’re going to survive as a species–and I realize that’s a big if–the real challenge isn’t going to be living on this planet but what’s beyond it, which is why what’s out there, where the whole process of life started, where it must be continually starting in so many places, is the key to our very existence. And what’s out there isn’t going anywhere, so the question is, where are we going?

12 Comments

  1. mydangblog

    I love how you always manage to stick in a joke about Uranus. A man after my own heart.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Uranus is a never-ending source of delight. And don’t forget: March 13th is Uranus Day. I will not rest until there’s a special day just to celebrate Uranus.

      Reply
  2. Bryce Warden

    I’m starting to suspect that we are the aliens.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      You could be right–that’s reminiscent of the end of The Martian Chronicles with the kids realizing that they’re Martians now.

      Reply
  3. BarbaraM

    I’m afraid that if we ever find aliens we’ll just take them away from their home, bring them to the closest lab and cut them open. Of course, if aliens get here first they might do the same with us, which is another good reason not to hitchhike across the galaxy – regardless of what the Dolphins told you.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Stephen Hawking’s warning still resonates: if aliens reach us first it might be like Columbus coming to America which didn’t turn out so well for the Native Americans. I prefer communicating by radio signals. Let’s get to know each other before the shooting starts.

      Reply
  4. Tom

    Barbara’s right. We can’t even get along with each other, in the same country, much less other countries or other externally-different beings of the exact same species, much less a species that is “alien” to us. Man kills. Like Harari says, Sapiens have managed to kill everything they encounter. Little green men will be no different.

    And if you’re wondering why my rosy optimism sounds like angry pessimism, just look at the calendar. I never could get the hang of Tuesdays. 😉

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      One of the interpretations of the ending of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel version of 2001–spoiler alert!–is that the Star Child wipes out humanity by setting off the world’s entire nuclear arsenal. Clarke said that wasn’t his intention but it’s telling that a lot of critics read it that way.
      Of course it’s also telling that a lot of people think that contact with an alien intelligence will unite humanity, either in friendship with our stellar neighbors, as in Star Trek, or out of fear, as in–spoiler alert!–the original Watchmen comic and the Outer Limits episode that inspired it.

      Reply
  5. Arionis

    It doesn’t take that long for sunlight to hit Uranus when on a multi-day hike in the woods. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Take care or Uranus just might end up as red as Mars.

      Reply
  6. Ann Koplow

    Where are we going? I’m going to your blog, Chris, as often as I can.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I come to your blog daily for new and wonderful things and am always glad when you come here.

      Reply

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