Me & My Barber
By Scott A Bennett
Spring Hill, FL
Imagination. It’s what drives us. Dreaming about a vacation on a sun soaked beach in the Bahamas. Imagining the promotion we want at work and what it would take to make it happen. Fantasizing about what it would be like to stand on the surface of the moon or to fly like a bird. And then making it happen.
In our world of politics, science, religion and everyday life these lines are frequently blended. Not necessarily by intention, but they are ingrained in who we are as people. As we sit in the barber chair for a shave and haircut the discussion of what is “right” and “wrong” with the world is as natural as the moon guiding the tides. We talk about taxes, wages, insurance costs, the cost of the latest war, and what we did last weekend.
I am for the remainder of this article going to pretend you are my barber and offer a few thoughts. But before I start: I am a seminarian. I studied Judaism and Christianity with a focus on the First Century and how the two faiths were separated; blended; then separated, and how this effects today’s beliefs. Also, I am an amateur astronomer. Though my education and passion lie in religion, I claim another passion: science. It is this which I wish to share.
Tom Skerritt playing David Drumlin in the movie Contact makes a statement that science needs to be accountable to those who fund it …such as tax payers… and asks what the problem is with science being practical and profitable? Matthew McConaughey’s character Palmer Joss replies, “Nothing, as long as your motive is the search for truth. Which is exactly what the pursuit of science is.” We must be able to recognize the truth when confronted with it, in the same way when we look out our front window and see a tornado, we recognize it’s time to head to the basement (or cellar depending on what part of the country you’re from).
There are two areas of science in which we as a society spend an overabundance of our tax dollars pursuing and researching, and continually gain no ground, namely evolution and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (S.E.T.I.). Before you drop this paper and dismiss this as the rant of some “religious nut” let me say this. All the research used and quote here within will be from scientists who claim to be “non-religious” in their approach to science. The facts I use will be purely scientific unless otherwise specified. Bias, obviously, can never be removed completely, but it can be minimized. As difficult as it may be, I will divorce my beliefs from this discussion.
If you are still reading, with hopes you are, I want to chat about only one of the “two” areas of science I have a problem with. Because of my love for astronomy – you guessed it! – let’s talk about S.E.T.I.
With movies like E.T., War of the Worlds, Men in Black, and the popularity of television shows like Star Trek (my all time favorite show), there should be no wonder we are so hopeful of the existence of other life among the stars.
In the book Rare Earth by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, the authors talk about the fine-tuning of the universe and galaxy we live in. Neither I, nor the authors, are inferring intelligent design. Just stating the obvious: Conditions are ripe in our neck of the woods, or galaxy as it were, for intelligent life to live and flourish. What is not so obvious is this: Are our galactic conditions unique or not? We can NOT be hopeful it is so, we must look at the evidence and from that alone decide. We must always separate fact from fiction; truth from hope; and evidence from desire. It may indeed be frightful, but we must be able to face our fears and consider we may be alone in the universe. If we are not, what does this imply, if anything? I will discuss both.
First, what are the possibilities we are alone. Let me clarify. There are forms of life on earth that exists in the most extreme conditions of temperature, pressure and atmosphere. From living miles below the surface of the Earth’s crust to the deepest volcanic vents at the bottom of the ocean. Not to mention life found in the fridged climate of our poles. In most circles these simple life forms are known as extremophiles. Knowing that these types of life exist right here on good ol’ planet Earth helps us understand what are known as habitable zones (HZ) in the universe. Areas where it is thought that life could exist provided the right conditions. Because of this, we now can say with more confidence that the HZ for life has increased in our search throughout the universe. But are we really interested in simple microbial life as found in the extreme conditions of the aforementioned? As the organization’s title plainly claims, they are interested in the search of extraterrestrial intelligence. With the hope of finding an intelligent sentient being our HZ decreases once again. These zones are categorized into six zones: Zone 1: unicellular, low-metabolism life that persists for a brief time period; up to Zone 6: advance life that survives for long time periods. We are looking for life in a Zone 6 HZ. In Rare Earth(1) the authors outline 18 different factors that have to be present on the planet, in the solar system, in and around the galaxy of the planet in order for intelligent life to flourish. The number of factors is actually closer to 150(2). I’ll mention only a few:
• Right distance from star
• Right mass of star
• Stable planetary orbits
• Right planetary mass
• Jupiter like neighbor
• Plate tectonics
• Ocean/continent ratio
• Large single moon
• Right amount of carbon
• Right kind of galaxy
• Right position in galaxy
• Galaxy location
• Galaxy mass
• Supernovae eruptions
• Planetary tilt
• Planet rotation period
• Magnetic field
• Thickness of crust
• Atmospheric pressure
• Atmospheric transparency
• Sunspot cycle
• Moon/Earth gravity ratio
• Planetary location
• Surface gravity
• Parent star color
• Parent star age
Consider this: the odds that a planet anywhere in the universe could meet all 150 parameters, where just one change to a single factor could extinguish life on that planet, is about 10-194. I’m thinking it’s kinda lonely out there. But let’s presume for a moment I’m wrong. All the factors have been met and wiz-bang! life is all over the universe.
Let’s first look at a few numbers.
Light travels at 186,282 miles per second.
1 light year = 5,874,589,152,000 miles or the distance light travels in one year.
1 AU (astronomical unit) = 92,955,808 miles or the average distance of the earth from the sun. There are 63,240 AUs in 1 light year.
The closest star to us is Proxima Centauri and lies about 4.3 light years from us. We’ll get back to that in a moment. One of the most tested theories of our time is Einstein’s theory of Relativity. You remember: E=mc2. According to this theory if an object were to reach the speed of light it would attain infinite mass. Which would require a propulsion drive with infinite power. “Not gonna happen…” Doctor of Astrophysics and author Hugh Ross tells us we could conceivably travel at about 1 percent of the speed of light or almost 7 million miles per hour and still remain safe(3). If we launched a manned space craft to the star Proxima Centauri it would take the astronauts 430 years to get there. Unquestionably a multigenerational trip.
Even within the neighborhood traveling distances takes a bit of time. January of this year (2006) the New Horizons spacecraft launched with the destination of Pluto targeted. Barring any difficulties it is expected to reach the small planet in July of 2015. The one-way journey is 9 1/2 years or a nineteen year round trip. To put this into perspective, if your son (or daughter) graduated from college and NASA training in 2005 at the ripe old age of 23 and decided to be the first human to study Pluto first-hand and left with New Horizons, spent 1 month there and headed home, you would not see him again until he was 42 years old. Wow. And that’s only 3 billion miles away. The closest solar type stars are about 155 light years away. This equates into about a 15,000 year trip.
Worm holes are not the answer either. If two black holes were to connect on two different space/time planes the mass of the black holes along with the intense gravity produced by such a union would tear any craft apart before it could move through the singularity.
Again, if I am completely wrong on the probability of intelligent life flourishing in the universe and the galaxies surrounding us are teaming with life, we will never know it’s there, because the distances are so vast, nearly incomprehensible. Science is good. Very good. But let us not spend the time blending our imagination with reality or money pursuing fruitless goals. If we can never be in contact with other civilizations because of the enormous gulf of space between us, if those civilizations even exist, let’s invest in developing craft that can check out the neighborhood. Heck, we’ve not been on the moon in 30 years. Let’s put our foot back on our doorstep, the moon, hit the sidewalk, Mars, and aim for the mailbox, Pluto. Manned exploration of our own solar system is where it’s at.
1 Rare Earth by Peter D. Ward; Donald Brownlee Published by Copernicus 2000 pg.xxvii
2 Lights in the Sky & Little Green Men by Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples, Mark Clark Published by NavPress 2002 pg 171 Appendix A, B
3 Ibid. pg 59
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