Is it just me, or does it seem as though every time there’s talk of cutting NASA’s budget, the space agency issues a press release saying that they’ve found some new, Earth-like planet? I’m not faulting them for it. I’d probably do the same thing. I just think that it’s interesting. (I bet they’re sitting on all kinds of cool stuff, just waiting for the most opportune time to share it.) Today’s news was about the discovery of two Earth-sized planets. (I guess the fact that it wasn’t just one Earth-like planet speaks to the severity of the funding threat the agency now faces at the hands of anti-science Republicans.)
While the temperatures on the surfaces of these planets, which are apparently quite near to their sun, would make them inhospitable to life forms like those that we’re familiar with, scientists seem to think that one of the planets (Kepler 20F) might have once been much cooler, and had liquid water on its surface. If this is true, it could have well been home to “intelligent” life. For all we know, there could have been civilizations vastly more advanced than our own. (They could have had artists more brilliant than Michelangelo, and cultural icons more enduring than Paris Hilton.) But, judging from what we’re seeing through our space telescope, they’re long gone now. And that’s what I find fascinating… this idea that, several million years from now, this planet that we now live on could be in the very same position.
Maybe it’s because I watched too much TV as a kid, but I can’t help but see all of this playing out like an episode of the Twilight Zone… I can picture the scene opening with a group of serious-looking scientists discovering a planet much like their own, but well after its demise, and discussing the possibility that it once sustained life, only to learn, in the very last minute of the episode, that the scientists aren’t on Earth, but somewhere else, and that our Earth is in fact the dead planet the they’re gazing upon… As painful as it would be for me to accept that all of mankind’s great accomplishments would be lost forever in a scenario like this, I suppose there’s also a little bit of comfort that can be had in this notion that Earth-like planets are constantly rising and falling all over the place, like zits on the face of the kid manning the deep frier at Long John Silver’s. With that in mind, I’d like to share the following comment, which was left by a reader of this site today, in answer to a question about how the people of Ypsilanti would greet my death.
I’ve often found myself dreaming of Mark’s demise, and how I might greet the news. In my favorite scenario, I’m drinking a beer in one of his Maynardtown (formerly Water Street) bars. The place is called Maynard’s, and I’m drinking a Maynard, which is a PBR poured through the skull of his arch nemesis. The news comes via the robotic bartender, who looks like Anton LaVey. He tells me that Mark has died in the act of fathering his 100th son. I finish my drink, and walk slowly into the Huron. I submerge, and, at some point, the bubbles stop coming to the surface.
I thought that was kind of poetic.
Oh, I should also note, for the historical record, that my arch nemesis has no skull. Other than that, though, I find this scenario completely plausible.
Speaking of beautiful and poetic things, I just found out that director Michel Gondry produced a 2-minute sweded version of Martin Scorsese’s career-making classic, Taxi Driver. (Word is that he created it to coincide with the French premier of Scorsese’s new film, Hugo.) Here it is, if you think that you can handle it.
I think the way he addressed the overhead tracking shot at the end was particularly beautiful.
Oh, and back to NASA, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to say that we should tax the rich as much as it takes so that we can have an ambitious and robust space exploration program that incorporates both manned and unmanned missions. As much as I love this planet of ours, we need to explore other options. If we learn nothing else from Kepler 20F, let it be that.
Oh, and I don’t really want to be the Kim Jong Il of Ypsilanti. I do, however, think the title “supreme leader” has a nice ring to it.