Careful listeners to Radio Heartland will notice I am not in the studio today. Family business has called me away but I'll be back with a "live" show tomorrow.
Speaking of traveling, the Cassini spacecraft continues to send startling and beautiful images back from Saturn. This one was posted on the mission's website last week, showing two moons appearing to race around one of the planet's rings.
Fans of the movie Avatar might note with interest that the real-life moon Pandora is on the left, looking considerably less inviting than it's digitally realized Hollywood namesake. Epimetheus is on the right, appearing to be take the lead on the inside along the rail. Actually, Pandora is slightly closer to the camera. Epimetheus's slightly larger size might aid the optical illusion.
In another weird optical illusion that I attribute to fatigue and the unpredictable nature of light, if you turn the photgraph on its edge, the ring is reminiscent of the famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and those chunky moons start to resemble parachutists about to make an illegal and ill-advised pass-through.
Or is it an open gas flame on the kitchen stovetop with a couple of wayward toast crumbs about to be incinerated?
Clearly I'm disoriented. But that's the way it is in space. The absence of oxygen can cause you to hallucinate. Some people imagine that have the right to sell parcels of property on the moon, and I suppose they'll make a little money as long as they can convince others to buy it. One website offers entire cityscapes for sale.
Why not establish Annaville or Clydopolis now, when land is cheap? Occupying it and getting settlers to come is another story, not to mention the inevitable court battles and more mundane housekeeping problems like Moon dust. But at least in space you don't have to go too far to find a vacuum.
I confess to being a sucker for the picturesque rings of Saturn, so I could see metropolitan Dale City springing up on Epimetheus someday. But once space tourism is possible I suppose any terrain with a good view of the rings will be as crowded as Yellowstone in July.
if you could go anywhere in the cosmos for a visit, knowing you'd return safely without spending your entire life on the journey, where would you go?
Famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking wonders in a new Discovery Channel series if our efforts to make contact with space aliens might prove to be counter-productive. Hawking imagines the aliens we find might be highly technological resource wasters who only want to suck planets dry and move on to the next.
Hey, that sounds like us!
In a three minute version of Hawking's scenario, the voracious invaders travel in gigantic spacecraft from very, very far away through an intergalactic wormhole. Then they plunder our planet and steal energy from our sun so they can build more cool ships and continue to rock and roll.
This REALLY sounds like us.
From this fantasy we can deduce two things about the widely acclaimed Dr. Hawking.
One - scientific brilliance doesn't automatically enable you to write a screenplay that's better than the typical Hollywood fare.
Two - he does not have what it takes to imagine an invading force as nuanced as the wierdly threatening yet thoroughly lovable Goats From Space.
But Stephen Hawking's version of a potential future catastrophe must be seriously considered. From all the universe, why would homeless space invaders choose to come after us?
Because their alien appetite for conquest is inflamed by the broadcasts that have just arrived at their end of the universe - stuff innocently sent out in the '50's and '60's that's now defining us for the creatures "out there". From episodes of "I Love Lucy" they learn that we are scatterbrained and technologically inept because we can't successfully interface with a simple conveyor belt. We're also overburdened with precious resources (chocolate, Latin music), and hopelessly naive. We think the worst thing that can happen is that Ricky will stay mad at us. (OK, Hawking didn't include this in his scenario, but even the greatest minds need an occasional assist).
So out of the wormhole they come in a massive armada, making short work of us and leaving our planet a ruined husk orbiting a drained cinder of a sun. Yikes!
And yet we continue to try to make contact! Everything that is broadcast goes out there and represents us to our potential conquerors. Should we be sending different, more threatening signals like a puffer fish does in order to appear bigger and more formidable? Could that work? Or should we send signals that depict our planet as a ridiculous and pathetic waste of time?
Oh wait, we already did that when we broadcast The Jerry Springer Show.
But seriously, most of us aren't watching TV anymore anyway. Shouldn't the FCC insist that broadcasters program for the most important audience we have?
How would you keep Stephen Hawking's nasty aliens away?