Star Trek: Discovery, episode 4

Well, I’m still watching.

This episode, once again, keeps dragging me along like an abusive relationship.

I get a little hint of interesting in that the deadly creature in the Captain’s chambers is somehow a giant Tardigrade. This is a super cool idea because Tardigrades are super interesting and I don’t think I’ve seen a Tardigrade monster in sci fi before. Also cool is that Michael doesn’t want to harm the creature, and is more interested in learning about it for curiosity’s sake than cutting it up for war purposes.

But then we’re back to war. The Discovery (a science ship) has a handwavy engine based on magic mushrooms that allows it to instantly appear anywhere in the Galaxy, and we better use that to bomb some Klingons! Nevermind what fans of Trek actually want to see, like, jumping instantly into unknown parts of the galaxy to explore crazy weird planets–no, lets just have some explosions.

Bored!

I keep hoping that just MAYBE one of their jumps will send them somewhere they can’t get back from, and they’ll be forced to do a bit of discovering. But so far we’re just doing war things, with a few interesting science fiction crumbs thrown out for the fans like me to keep us just on this side of starvation.

 

Endless stories

There are so many books out there I’ll never read. So many characters I’ll never know, places I’ll never imagine, idea’s I’ll never entertain. Imagining this infinite landscape of fiction gives me a sense of exploration and openness–anything-is-possible-ness–that I used to get from playing open world video games. The slight sadness that I’ll never get to enjoy all these books is overtaken by the excitement of knowing that I’ll never run out.

Open something new! Take a step into the unknown…

 

Alien worlds in our own backyard

I watched this TED talk the other day and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It is exciting to think of so much unknown still in our world, even if I myself will likely never do any of the discovering.

There are millions of miles of unexplored caves beneath us. Untouched by humanity. What kinds of creatures might we find in these isolated environments? What strange evolutionary paths might they have taken?

Knowing that we don’t have to leave our planet to find the unknown is inspiring, and in another life I could imagine myself snooping through caves looking for strange creatures. Such adventures are not nearly as inaccessible for the average person as space exploration is.

Check out the video, and maybe go check out a cave!

Pluto!

It’s been all over the news and social media for the past few days, but in case you haven’t heard somehow, the New Horizons probe has taken some amazing pictures of Pluto, after nearly a decade of travel and three billion miles.

Distances like this are so hard to grasp, the numbers are just so huge that they don’t really make sense to our human minds. Trying to think about it really makes me feel a lot of respect for the people that engineered and planned this. It’s so easy to take things like this for granted. “Oh, cool we got pictures of another planet, great.” you might say.

This planet is three BILLION miles away, and we were able to fire this tiny probe at it with such accuracy that it flew by within 8000 miles. That’s like trying to hit a target an inch across from nearly six miles away, if I did my math right. And not just hit the target, take pictures of it then turn around and broadcast them back to Earth.

So I’m feeling pretty impressed, and proud of humanity for doing something so awesome. And I’m enjoying having all these pictures we’ve been getting. And there is even more to come as the probe continues to send the images back.

 pluto-hires (1)

Maybe one day we’ll be sending a robot to land there… or even people?

Europa

NASA’s budget for 2016 was announced on Monday, and within the 18.5 billion they received, is 30 million specifically for a robotic mission to Europa.

Europa has always been the hot spot for the possibility of life in our solar system, and now we may be able to catch a glimpse of anything living beneath the frozen oceans of the moon.

This started me thinking about what would happen if we really did discover life there. Life of any kind. How would it affect the psyche of the world, knowing that we are not alone? How would it affect religions and philosophies?

I tried to think about how it would affect me. Would I be changed, knowing that there was other life, completely alien from anything I knew before, that had sprung up spontaneously in the same way I, and every other living thing I’ve encountered, did?

I think it would make me feel awed, in the true sense of the word. I get a little tingling in my gut, thinking about it, a glimmer of how huge and old and completely unknowable the universe is. It feels strange, and a bit scary, but also comforting in a weird way.

Would such a discovery make the rest of the world feel this way? Or would they brush it off, joke about it, minimize it, or outright deny it? Or would it be met with a collective ‘huh, that’s interesting’ and be old, forgotten news in a few weeks?

I don’t know anymore. I feel like it should be momentous, it should be history making, the biggest event in modern science and something unforgettable and world shaking. But maybe these things aren’t important to most people. You cant interview a microbe or fish-like thing beneath ice on a moon four-hundred million miles away. Maybe it would only mean anything to scientists or sci fi fans.

I’d like to think not, though. I’d like to think that kind of news would draw humanity together in collective amazement, and joy at such a discovery. I’d like to think it would make us all better people.

But maybe I’m just an idealist.

Anyway, we’ll have to actually get to Europa first! Right now a launch date of 2022 is in the works. I’ll be watching excitedly as the mission is planned, implemented and executed over the coming years.

Cloud City on Venus

NASA has plans for a Cloud City on Venus, seriously. 

Our nearest neighbor, Venus, is always ignored when it comes to explorations, probably because the surface is around 465C (870F). Venus is very similar to Earth otherwise, though, and is called Earth’s twin. It’s nearly identical in size and composition and gravity, we just can’t get anywhere near the surface. Even to send a robot would be difficult since the temperatures there are hot enough to melt lead.

But the atmosphere, however, is another questions.

The High Altitude Venus Operational Concept, or HAVOC (nice) is NASA’s plan which would first send a robot to test the atmosphere, followed by an crewed orbital mission, then finally a thirty day manned mission into the atmosphere of Venus, staying in solar-powered airships held up by helium. Yeah, it sounds like a sci fi movie. But NASA is actually seriously thinking about this.

Imagine, a cloud city on Venus full of scientists studying the planet below. The vision in my head is something like the scene below:

PPgTYrw

But… maybe I shouldn’t get my hopes up…

Kepler 186F

Astronomers announced yesterday that they’ve found what they think is an Earth-like planet, 490 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, orbiting the star Kepler 186.

The planet is only slightly bigger than Earth, rocky, and orbits its star in the so-called ‘Goldilocks zone’, making it likely hospitable for life. Though the planet is too far away to get a look at and tell if it actually has liquid water or a protective atmosphere, this is pretty good news that such planets are out there. And if we’ve found this one, there are bound to be millions more.

Kepler 186 isn’t even a star like our sun, it is an M-Dwarf, which means its smaller, dimmer and not as hot. This greatly extends the possible locations to look for habitable planets, if multiple kinds of stars can harbor them.

If we can find a loophole in the laws of physics that would let us get to another star within a human lifetime, I think humanity will have no problem finding enough livable planets to populate the galaxy.

Thinking of all those planets out there, unseen, unknown–it makes the explorer in me scream for a spaceship that can reach them. And though I know I’ll never be able to go myself, I can enjoy their exploration vicariously. I dearly hope that in my lifetime we will see at least the beginnings of interstellar travel.

I know it’s unlikely, but I can dream 🙂