Galaxies and the Future

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

Let’s think big today – real big!

Much of the information I collect to write on here comes from the internet. I don’t need to go into detail on what an incredibly useful tool the internet is, but when I find a site that’s interesting it goes into a pool of random links that I sort out later. The other day I was sorting through this omni-growing list I came across something I had bookmarked for a very interesting reason. The project is called KEO and its mission is no less than to put a bunch of messages in a winged satellite orbiting Earth for 50,000 years so as to preserve the present perspective of the world for the future. I’m already certain future historians are thrilled.

KEO Satellite

KEO Satellite

Seriously though, this idea is really going to happen in 2009/2010 (or so the site says, somewhere else I noticed this was planned as early as 2006). And I just thought how novel it would be if I contributed to it. The impact of me on anyone from the future on trying to decipher through the depths of time what I try to say about our whole world in 4 pages was too enticing of a possibility to pass up – even though at the time I didn’t feel like getting real philosophical. So when I came upon this link the other day, I knew it was now or never, I needed to contribute to this ridiculous (yet novel!) idea.

The truth is this idea was really well thought out, at least from a practical perspective. If we were going to launch a time capsule into space we might as well also collect data on it. And so in any language everybody, even you, gets the chance to write 4 pages of your current world view. They will then be made anonymous and studied by some people of knowledge – for some interesting data on current world views around the entire globe.  This sounds like a privilege beyond measure to be given the opportunity – and it is – but at the same time my brain just cannot fathom the chances of anybody ever actually reading it again 50,000 years and beyond. And even if they do – the ability to grasp 50,000 year old language might not be very accurate. So I felt a little foolish writing it – but I encourage it anyway – at least for the practical purposes of the experiment. And lucky you, you guys get a 50,000 year preview of what I’ve got to say for these guys:

I can’t imagine a circumstance where somebody is reading this 50,000+ years in the future. The thought of being ancient currently is hard to grasp. We live in a time of great wealth and prosperity, yet we are on a precipice of a collapse.

Our species has created a global empire that has become so efficient in just a mere 10,000 years that we now hold the power to destroy all life on this planet. This technology was discovered less than 100 years ago and is capable of destroying entire cities, and already has.

Our population is teeming and growing at an unprecedented rate. The value of human life is declining. The value of all life is declining. Our empire has become so large that we have become unsustainable. We are consuming resources without regard to longevity or sustainability.

We are a lonely species. We cannot find another species with equal intellect and so we attempt to conquer our world. From the snowy Arctic and Antarctic in the North and South to the tropical equator wrapping around the world East and West we attempt to conquer and manipulate all. We put resources and other living beings to use for our material benefit.

We have created such material wealth, yet we are more desperate and unhappy than we’ve ever been in the history of the world. Slavery is more rampant. Extinction of species is a daily occurrence. Our need for a diverse planet for survival is slowly coming to a collapse and this will make mankind desperate. And when we are desperate we are a scary thing to behold.

I’d be surprised if humans are the recipients of this KEO project in 50,000 years. Perhaps an entirely newly evolved species might find it in 2 million. Perhaps extraterrestrials will find it in 40,000 years. Most likely this message will die in the bowels of the Earth or be destroyed along with the planet.

Writing in this almost seems useless. But there is a chance somebody not from our time will read this and it may convey important knowledge or wisdom.

For the last 2,000 years most of the humans on this planet decided to believe that there is 1 single omniscient and omnipotent being that will judge our behavior after we have died. This is believed entirely on faith and with no factual evidence to back it up. The stunning thing is that these humans constantly war over the best way to worship this omniscient and omnipotent being. Some of us don’t like to pretend we know what happens after we die – but we’re in the minority, and those who believe can become upset.

We have come up with almost any material possession imaginable yet we are still unhappy. Those nations with high material wealth show great signs of depression when too focused on materialism. However, materials make one useful and wealthy. Pride and greed overrule good judgment in dealing with materialism, it is a very tricky beast to tame.

Outside of the planet we believe we are alone because nobody has contacted us and we have found nobody. We have spent large amounts of money at looking for somebody, anybody out in space and we have found nobody. We know there are other uninhabited planets around a giant natural furnace that is constantly fusing hydrogen into helium at a very high temperature. We know the Universe has an end and we know the Universe began all in one spot. We know the Universe is governed by a few natural laws and these have all been scientifically proven. Unfortunately, we don’t know what it all means and we get frustrated all the time about it.

Despite our obvious faults we have amazing talents. Many of us have overcome terrible odds to be a source of inspiration, positive action, and progressive thinking. Issues that concern the entire planet as well as local communities are our source of motivation, but greed and miscommunication tend to muddy things up. We play some of the most beautiful music in the Universe – I’m certain of that. We love art and expression. We pursue knowledge and wisdom. But the battle is seemingly to be lost to the ignorant.

For the last 10,000 years our society has slowly grown across the entire world. As it grew it had great periods of growth as well as great periods of depression. We are just ending this great period of growth, and this time it has left us with the knowledge and power to wipe out all life on this planet. When this imminent depression takes root I am afraid that this KEO project will not see the light of day by any future species of any race. Earth may be as cold and dead as her neighbors.

I totally screwed with the future’s head because instead of writing “few natural resources” I wrote “future natural resources” [I had the future on my mind I guess]. Luckily I found it before I posted it on here, but too bad for the future. So by all means put your own take down and write your vision of our world and share it with our chronological neighbors!

Galaxy Zoo

Galaxy Zoo

Now that we have thought about the future for a bit, let’s think a bit about the past (we’re thinking big today!) and turn our eyes towards galaxies out in space. In my entry on the Universe I wrote about a site known as Galaxy Zoo where you get to help astronomers collect data on the millions of galaxies that dot our skies. Well good news! Since then they have updated and now have a more comprehensive survey in which they still need your help! They call it Galaxy Zoo 2, but it’s still located at galaxyzoo.org.

Why should you do this? Some people would view looking at these pictures as “just” a galaxy and if that’s the case for you, then you need to think more 3 dimensionally and bring some reality to life. Each galaxy you look at could contain thousands of life sustaining planets with all sorts of species and cultures that we may never see. And theres just a chance someone is looking at us back. But also this helps astronomers organize and collect data about our Universe!

The only real argument against spending this kind of time and effort on things like the future and the Universe is that it’s “impractical” in the sense that these are age-old things people have obsessed about and have not found any real answers – just more questions. But both the future and the Universe are our unknowns – every time I let it affect me I get stunned at exactly what we’re doing – literally floating through space that is large beyond measure – and you have to take some time to understand your direct relationship with that. Every part of your body at one point was in a star. We are a carbon-based life form and carbon, as well as every other natural element, was forged deep in the furnaces of stars in space. What the Universe is thinking is anybodys guess – but you should spend time thinking/learning about space and time because they govern us absolutely. And you should promote others to spend a little time thinking/learning about it as well.

Since I’m on the topic of space today I’m going to share a couple of recent space-related articles to show that the Universe is something that is always busy (despite looking identical each night) and always giving us something to think about.

 

Picture of Comet Lulin

Picture of Comet Lulin

Comet Lulin is going to be at its brightest this week (the last week of February 2009) and is something that you can see with binoculars. If it’s clear one of these nights I’m definitely going to go check it out – even though it’s goddamn February and everybody’s tapping their toe for Spring around here. Also, for the record, a comet is not a meteor, asteroid, or a star.

A star – is a giant nuclear fusion factory that it’s so hot it glows – not burns. Burning is a chemical reaction and stars are nuclear reactions. Most of the stars are constantly taking hydrogen and fusing it to become helium at a temperature of millions of degrees. The sun is a star. Though this is what happens like 99% of the time, as I’ve said before, stars create all the other elements that we find on this planet and everywhere else in the Universe. Stars are simply element factories radiating energy and heat.

A meteor – is also known as a shooting star. But that’s a lie – stars travel but they do not shoot. Meteors aren’t far out in space like a star is. Meteors are space rocks that enter into the Earth’s frictional (not fictional – note the difference) atmosphere and burn up as they become victim to Earth’s gravity. If this meteor survives its burn to the Earth and is still big enough to find – it’s called a meteorite. Hunting for meteorites is a really big passion and can even be profitable because they are a rare find, yet they are all over the Earth. In fact, if you live in the southwestern United States you are in one of the prime hunting zones for meteorites. Personally I have always been fascinated with the Sahara desert so this story of a Libyan Sahara Meteorite Expedition really caught my interest. And it really gives you insight about both meteorites and the desert. Before a meteor enters our atmosphere it is known as a meteoroid. They tend to be anywhere from as small as a piece of sand to as large as a boulder. Both the Earth and the Moon have been pummelled with meteors their whole life. So if a meteorite on the ground is the result of a meteor in the sky and the meteor is the result of a meteoroid from space – where does the meteor come from?

A Comet – That’s right. Meteoroids come from comets. Now a comet, like Comet Lulin, all orbit the sun like the Earth and the rest of the planets. The difference is they are balls of rock and ice (the ice could be water, methane, ammonia, or whatever) and they have a very elliptical orbit. While the Earth’s orbit around the sun is not a perfect circle, the comets orbit will go in closer to the sun than Mercury’s orbit as well as shoot well outside the orbits of our outermost known planets. For years, sometimes centuries, comets sit dark and quiet at the lonely edge of our solar system with the sun nothing larger than a speck in the distance. But when the comet comes into its inner orbit and comes close to the sun the volatile ice begins to dissipate off the comet giving it a very distinct tail.  This is why you should go take a look at Lulin, comets bedazzle many who pay attention to our heavens. The comet Hale Bopp was famous for inciting the suicides of dozens. Anyway, in respect to the tail – this is the visible debree that the comet is releasing at any point it starts entering the inner Solar System and so (like humans) it leaves a trail of trash wherever it goes – including right through Earth’s future orbit. Most of the debris that’s left behind from a comet is called a meteoroid – so that is how meteoroids come from comets. Every year when we travel through these comet orbits you can sit outside and watch the sky replenish meteorite hunter’s dreams. These are known as meteor showers.

An Asteroid – If it’s not a meteoroid, if it’s not a comet, and if it’s not a planet or a star, yet it still lies within our Solar System, it’s most likely an asteroid. And asteroids are pretty serious dudes. The inner planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars – were forged through catastrophic collisions of behemoth rocks.  As these inner planets cleared most of these rocks away  there is an area between Mars and Jupiter where many rocks – some the size of small planets – lay in wait for their collision that will unify its substantial size to a more massive entity. Comets are more predictable because they travel alone and light up making it easy to calculate their orbit and determine whether it is a threat to our precious Earth. Asteroids give us no such warning. While science has done a lot on the grounds of tracking things in our Solar System there are just too many asteroids with too much of an unpredictable orbit to know. Astronomers are always on vigil for an asteroid coming within the Earth’s orbit – but even so – little could be done if a sizeable one was calculated to run into the Earth.  What are the chances? You might ask. Take a look at this asteroid simulation in HD from the Discovery Channel. This video is of what would happen to Earth if a 310 mile wide asteroid hit the Earth. The initial impact alone (when it hits the Pacific) peels off 6 miles of the Earths crust and sends it flying into space. Science has found at least 6 major asteroids have hit the Earth since existence. I don’t have to be a scientist to tell you that is only the ones we can prove – asteroids are memory erasers of anything that occurred before impact – and the Earth has probably been hit many more times than that. An asteroid is just one of the many reasons why it felt a little silly to write in the KEO project. After all, there is a slight chance the Earth could be hit by an asteroid in 2036, but most scientists don’t think that will occur.

Artist representation of what is going on during a Gamma Ray Burst

Artist representation of what is going on during a Gamma Ray Burst - dont ask me

Lastly I wanted to mention a recent record that has been broken in the Universe. A couple of times every week we detect these massive explosions from deep space. What we do know is that they are bursts of gamma rays which are extremely powerful and luminescent. Hence their name: Gamma Ray Bursts. What we don’t know is what causes them. Because of their luminosity astronomers believe they can only be associated with the destruction of massive stars in the Universe. But the reality of the situation is we have no clue. Gamma Ray Bursts are incredibly short – anywhere from less than a second to a little over a minute – but multiple times more bright than any star. This means that while we are unable to see the star in which it originated, we are able to see the burst itself, before it disappears into the murky depths of space.

Well last year astronomers detected the largest Gamma Ray Burst in the history of recording the event from Earth. Gamma Ray Bursts are already the most energetic things in the Universe, so how bright and powerful was this GRB? Well it occurred 12.2 billion light years away (which means the site of this explosion has been travelling for 12.2 BILLION years at the speed of light to deliver us this impressive show of radiation. Scientists have explained that if 9,000 supernovas were to explode that only then would there be equal brightness to the Gammar Ray Burst that was discovered last year. So what are these Gamma Ray Bursts about? We have to study them more to find out… but this is our mother – up there in the sky. That black void with it’s cold, dark, magnificent, enigmatic, and lonely eye gave birth to you – gave birth to us all. It forged things other than hydrogen and helium into being. We should all spend some time appreciating, understanding, and respecting out Universe. Its size alone demands respect.

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Universe

Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!

The picture directly below is of a galaxy that I was the first person on this planet to lay eyes on. I’ve named it Howard and if you’re looking at it right now then you may be the second, fourth, three-hundredth, three-thousandth… you get the idea.

Naked Man in the Tree’s Galaxy

Is that really true? Am I the first person to have ever seen this galaxy for real? The answer is quite possibly yes! The reason that is possible is because I joined a website that helps identify galaxies called Galaxy Zoo. In order to understand more about galaxies a project called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey scours the depths of the Universe in search of a mere million galaxies. The initial purpose of this is so astronomers can understand how galaxies are formed. Since the images are taken automatically they don’t touch human eyes, however in order to classify the galaxies Galaxy Zoo is asking you (and me) to look at them for them, and classify them. It’s almost brainless work but in order to help scientists understand our Universe better it is also important work.

Howard is part of the Universe. And the Universe happens to be one of the three things I don’t understand. If you’re interested in learning about the other two things I don’t understand, check out my entries on people and life. The Universe is the ultimate ruler, the God of man, the God of life. It is the Universe’s rules in which we are solidly bound to. It is such a tyrant that if you even attempt to break one law, there will probably be serious repercussions. The Universe rules with an iron fist, ready to crush anything that attempts (but always fails) to create its own governing laws. Life is bound to the rules of the Universe and yes, even humans are bound to the rules of the Universe. The Universe is sincerely a perplexing thing. However, like lawyers, humans are good at manipulating those laws to their favor.

Indeed the Universe is so complex that scientists are yet to even really understand it. People are thrown for a loop after loop when trying to study the Universe. First they realize that the Earth is not the center of it, which was hard to accept, then we find we’ve been living oblivious to the law of gravity all this time, then we find that gravity isn’t instantaneous and then we even discover light isn’t instantaneous. In fact we learn that when we look in to the sky at night, when we gaze our eyes deep into the sky, yes even if we could focus our eyes on Howard, we are looking at a past that does not exist anymore. Howard, the way we see him in this picture, is significantly changed now in his deep corner of the Universe. And it’s even possible he could be vanished entirely at this very moment (however it’s still improbable).

The Universe teaches us one of the most important lessons of people, life, and the Universe. This Universe is about perspective. I bolded perspective because this is the way I try and view everything, through other perspectives. It’s interesting when you take this age-old Universal law and apply it to your everyday life how magnified and minimized things can become, in fact how distorted everything becomes.

Don’t believe it? Let’s try it right now. Let’s begin to look at the solar system in perspective of the Universe:

Planets for dinner

As we can plainly see here, when we are talking about things on the scale of the sun the Earth is hardly a pixel, and you… who are you? If you’re interested in the distance between these planets and the sun from each other there is a to-scale website that shows you. And indeed the Sun itself, the powerhouse of life on this planet, the true life-giving God, is eclipsed and almost forgotten in the amalgam that is our own, Milky Way galaxy:

Even with the planets worshiping it the sun is just another face in the crowd

Even with the Milky Way being so huge, the sun can even be eclipsed simply by other stars. At this scale we’re talking about, and we’re not even near the largest of the scales of the Universe, humans have become all but insignificant. Have you ever stepped on an ant without even realizing it? That’s more significant than you are to the Universe. Even if you became dictator of the planet you would still be smaller than an ant under a sneaker. Indeed if the sun were to explode and take us with it right now,the galaxy would be wholly unaffected by the incident. The destruction of life, Earth, and the sun would be nothing more significant than losing one of the mites in your eyebrows. But it doesn’t even end there. The Milky Way is part of a gang of galaxies known as the local group:

This is a Neighborhood Watch community

The Local Group is a group of galaxies that all hang out relatively near to the Milky Way Galaxy. The two biggest galaxies are the Milky Way and the Andromeda. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. So fast that when you turn a light on in a room, it fills the room with photons almost instantaneously. However it takes 8 full minutes to get light from the Sun to the Earth. Which also means that if the Sun were to magically explode now it would take 8 eerie minutes for us to witness it on Earth. For 8 solid minutes while the sun is rupturing in the likes unknown to humanity, for 8 solid minutes while it happened we would continue in our ignorant bliss taking it for granted. We would continue our fighting, bickering, torturing, and plundering for 8 continual minutes and then everyone, indeed everyone would stop, look up, and I can only hope reflect. Chances are they’d run in panicky fear… to where I have no idea.

While light takes a mere 8 minutes to get from the sun to the Earth it takes 4.2 years for the sun to send a packet of light to the nearest star. However the Milky Way is so big that it contains anywhere between 200 to 400 billion stars and for a packet of light to be sent from one end to the other it would take over 100,000 Earth years for it to make it. Yet in that same time you’d have only made it to the center of the the Andromeda galaxy. It would take that same packet of light to travel a total of 200,000 years to simply travel from one end of the structure to the other and it contains over one trillion (1,000,000,000,000) stars. Here’s a trivia fact, if each star was $1 it would take 9 Andromeda galaxies to come close to removing the national debt of the United States (I was initially going to say not even the US National Debt was that much, but I just learned otherwise).

Artistic perspective!

While it takes light only 200,000 years to cross the Andromeda Galaxy, it takes about 2.5 million years for light from the Andromeda Galaxy to reach us here on Earth. Humans as we know ourselves did not even exist on the Earth 2.5 million years ago. While this light traveled its long distance from the Andromeda Galaxy 2.5 million years ago a lot changed. While it flew through space at the fastest known speed in the Universe humans came in to existence without a single tool or wheel or knowledge of fire. However 10,000 years ago when agriculture was first discovered by humans this photon of light still is going breakneck speed heading directly to Earth. The Byzantine Empire, The Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, and British Empire had all risen and fallen and this photon still didn’t reach Earth. Then finally- today- you walk outside, well after World War I and II, well after the Cold War, and look up dully at the sky and light from the Andromeda Galaxy finally hits your eyes, the light that left its home before modern humans existed. And today, right now, in the Andromeda Galaxy any given star has the potential to see the light from the Milky Way Galaxy, and what they see is a Milky Way Galaxy that has not had humans on the planet Earth yet. This means that even if there were people alive currently in the Andromeda Galaxy and they sent messages out to the Milky Way at light speed, it’d take 2.5 million years for us to receive the message and chances are we aren’t going to live that long.

So what did the Andromeda Galaxy look like 2.5 million years ago? Look in to the sky and you’ll find out. What does the Andromeda Galaxy look like today? Wait 2.5 million years and you’ll find out. In other words- if the Andromeda Galaxy were to magically explode at this moment in the most massive explosion ever to be witnessed in our skies, we would not see it happen for 2.5 million years. The Andromeda Galaxy, theoretically, could’ve exploded over a million years ago and yet because the light of that hasn’t reached us yet we are still looking at the pre-exploded Andromeda Galaxy.

And that is just one galaxy from our local group. Our local group contains roughly about 20 galaxies. In the observable Universe there are probably more than one hundred billion galaxies. I know no human can really imagine the size of the Universe to contain that many galaxies with the vast distances that are virtually impossible to conceive already with just our local group. However Science still gives us a few numbers to ponder anyway: While the Big Bang appeared to have happened only a mere 13.7 billion years ago, the actual size of the Universe seems to be older than the oldest things inside of it. It seems that the Observable Universe is roughly 46.5 billion years in all directions.

A recent free-flying trip for an astronaut

Why this is scientists really couldn’t tell you, even though they have plenty of theories to propound. Such as the Universe actually being smaller than the Observable Universe or perhaps larger. There is still a lot to be studied about the super-massive place. The point is, the whole point is, is that it’s still in debate. There are a lot of perspectives to look at before we can figure out what the deal is with our tyrannical and colossal Universe. A great way to really see these perspectives is to check out the Nikon Universcale.

It’s true that while scientists understand many laws of the Universe, they certainly are confounded by some. When Albert Einstein proved his Theory of Relativity (the Universe’s laws that govern the large things, like galaxies) it has repeatedly been proven to such a certainty that to call it wrong would be sedition. If you are a scientists who throws out the Theory of Relativity, other scientists will call you not a scientist. Yet at the same time Physics (the Universe’s laws that govern small things, like atoms) lives in direct violation to the Theory of Relativity but has been proven to be equally as correct.

This has led to a race with scientists to search for a Theory of Everything (ToE) which has involved everything from invisible strings that almost musically create matter to alternate dimensions. Since scientists don’t know the answer to everything should we dismiss what they do know because it doesn’t answer all the questions? No. Simply because their findings and projections are based on empirical data. Empirical data is important because it is documented and proven unlike many things people tend to base their beliefs on. Does this mean if scientists figure out the ToE that all questions about the Universe will be solved? No way! Just because we understand the laws does not mean there is not more to the equation.

However it is the laws of the Universe that have a direct effect on life and people. Even if we found out the ToE it would not automatically solve the foggy mist surrounding the origins of life or why people are acting in such a way that people do. The questions I propose to address on the Universe are few but simple but probably improbable to find out the answers to:

Black Eye Galaxy

Why does the Universe exist?

What is happening within the Universe?

What do the laws of the Universe have to do with people and life?

Why do people exist within the Universe considering their insignificance and limited time?

How does time, speed, light, and mass all bury what we thought were solid perspectives?

What is truly impossible and what is only perceived as impossible?


…And so on. The Universe is daunting but is always fun to learn about because things we keep finding out about it rock our world as people. When people initially found out the world was round or wasn’t the actual center of the Universe it was absolutely blasphemous to consider and Religion even went as far to oppress such an idea. Certainly we can learn a lot from the Universe… considering that is where we’re from, we might as well.