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Jimmy Grylls Comes to Terms With the Space Age
You are standing in the middle of a field; nothing is moving; all is still. But is this really true?
By Jimmy Grylls in France
In another version of events you are one of 7 billion humans in a roughly spherical ball whizzing ,at many thousands of miles an hour, through the blackness of space.
And space isn’t very distant - just a little further than Glasgow to Edinburgh only seeming remote because you have to travel up to get there.
These days it is to space rather than religion many humans are turning to in the attempt to solve the age-old mystery of who - or what - we are and where - if anywhere - we are heading.
You might even call it the religion of science
There’s plenty of room in space. Travelling at the speed of Concorde it would take a spaceship 30,000 years to reach the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, which is a relatively small one.
Until very recently the number of galaxies in our universe numbered in the billions; however new research published recently in the distinguished Astrophysical Journal has upped that figure to two trillion.
As a result some scientists now believe the number of stars should now be revised up to 7 followed by 21 zeros (36 in the UK) a number known as a sextillion or 700 thousand billion billion.
Most of these we can’t study because they are too distant for us to see using current telescopes.
How far away are they? Well the remoter ones are a bit more than 30,000 years. As every schoolboy knows - or used to know - light travels at about 186,000 miles a second. By this reckoning our sun is just over 8 light-minutes away or 93 million miles in real money.
So from that try to imagine how far a light-year is. In fact a light-year is 6 trillion miles. The nearest star other than our sun is 4.22 light-years away. The edge of the universe is 13.8 billion light years distant; that’s the observable universe or as far as we can see.
As to the number of planets , some have put that total as exceeding the grains of sand on Earth.
It’s only a small step from that to draw the inference that somewhere out in the countless miles of space there lie many planets which not only sustain life but life which is vastly superior to ours in technology.
Data from the Kepler Space Observatory suggests that in our galaxy alone there could be 2 billion planets capable of supporting life.
If we can find a way to reach them some might conceivably provide a home for us humans .
There are differing views on how we approach this problem for problem it may be. On Earth history demonstrates that when a civilisation meets one less technically advanced it is the latter which suffers. Keep quiet and don’t attract attention is the advice of some cosmologists. Others say that a civilisation that has advanced to the state they could actually reach us must have solved the problem of avoiding extinction and thus be, well, too civilised to threaten us.
Another theory postulates if you manage to survive the technological age without destroying yourself then you’ve made it as a planetary society. A figure of 10,000 years has been on this survival era.
Self destruction of course is an increasingly likely outcome for Earth; none other than Stephen Hawking has said if we are to ensure human survival we must get off the planet.
But these are early days. It is only 800 lifetimes since we emerged blinking from the caves and two or three lifetimes since things like flight and electricity were discovered.
For 4,000 years the fastest thing around was the chariot but trains, planes and automobiles have contributed to a spiralling graph that ends….where?
NASA are currently experimenting with a new form of power that could take us to Mars in 10 weeks and another form of power hasd suggested three days, this for a journey that has previously been estimated at several months. However we need something much more powerful to take us to the stars.
But there may be even more spookier stuff going on out there. For many years now scientists have been looking at the possibility ours isn’t the only universe. The “multiverse” may contain infinite universes, galaxies and planets.
In one mind-boggling scenario you may lead an existence in these universes similar yet not identical to the one you do here.
These are only theories but they do have the backing of some eminent scientists.
At the end of the day we may be somewhat like an ant in the jungle. It cannot conceive the Empire State Building nor have we, or it, the ability to communicate and explain what that is or what we are.
In one sense the history of humanity has been one of increasing humiliation. Hundreds of years ago we believed our planet was rooted at the centre of everything with the sun and the stars whizzing round us.
Each fresh discovery has confirmed our littleness . We may have had our Caesars, Hitlers, Maos, Shakespeares, Mozarts and more but in the great scheme of things we are so very small.
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