Monday, December 20, 2010
IS ANYBODY THERE?
When is the last time you looked up at the night sky and saw a sky full of stars?
When I was very little, I looked up and saw diamonds in the sky -- so many sparkling, blinking speckles -- tiny twinkling jewels overhead. My sister said it was the Milky Way. For me, it was a carpet of diamonds, a pathway for me to follow into the future.
And here I am in New York City, and when I look up -- no stars. never a single star. The child in me is convinced there are no stars in the sky above New York City -- just the red glow of lights from the city.
Oh yes, I have certainly thought about life on other planets, and I wonder if there are other worlds in the universe where people might be living -- and yes, I've thought about aliens -- are there, were there, could there be?
I find myself humming the song from the musical, 1776 -- the plaintive, echoing melody -- "Is – any – body – there?"
I guess other worlds are on my mind, because everything around us is so very crowded. There's almost nothing you can do in New York City, without dodging people on the street, saying excuse me, or being jostled, bumped as you enter a store, and stand in line, waiting to ask a question, or pay a cashier.
Queues -- twice today, I was put on hold on the telephone, and told by a recorded voice "you are in queue" -- every day, you're in some kind of a queue.
Well, here's what I found out about other worlds.
Since 2009 a Kepler space telescope has been orbiting our sun. Though there are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, there are just (approximately), 500 "exoplanets" (that's what they're called) orbiting our own sun -- no earth-size planet in any star's "habitable zone," where things are not too hot or too cold, but okay for life.
Just a few weeks ago, a planet called Gliese 581g was identified by a team of American astronomers.
Other scientists have been shaking their heads, raising questions about whether it exists at all.
But, if the Kepler telescope, with its sensors fixed at about 100,000 sun-like stars, detects dimming in one of the stars in the Gliese system, (dimming about once every year), it means the planet has an orbit like Earth's.
Gliese 581g could be it. Kepler scientists will make their first major announcement in February, about the planets they've found so far. The sheer number of stars out there makes some earth-like worlds all but inevitable. The search will then be on -- the scientists will be looking for any Earth-like life upon them.
Want to find out? $20 million buys a sightseeing trip in orbit -- there's been a first tourist, a second, a third, and two would-be space tourists, actress Cindy Crawford is one of them.
""Is – any – body – there? Does -- any -- body -- care?" goes the song.
I care! I think a lot of us care, and we're waiting, wondering. Maybe if they lowered the price to $5 million, there will be more tourists signing up for sightseeing trips.