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Have we just made the most important scientific discovery of our time?

In: News

Posted By: Doc Holliday at 5:04 pm

30 Nov 2010

NASA is holding a press conference on Thursday ”to discuss an astrobiology finding.” Are they going to announce that they’ve found evidence of extraterrestrial life? Blogger Jason Kottke took a look at Nasa’s press release, which touts ”an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life” (astrobiology, besides being a cool word, is “the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe”), and decided to investigate further by looking at the participants’ resumes. So who are the participants? A geobiologist who’s written about geology and life on Mars, an oceanographer who’s done extensive work on arsenic-based photosynthesis, a biologist examining Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, and its similarities to early Earth, and an ecologist investigating the chemistry of environments where life evolves.

Now, yes, obviously, throw in a grizzled marine and you’ve got the making of an awesome movie about discovering aliens. But that’s not (the only reason) why Kottke thinks the announcement will be about life on another world.  Here’s what he says: “So, if I had to guess at what NASA is going to reveal on Thursday, I’d say that they’ve discovered arsenic on Titan and maybe even detected chemical evidence of bacteria utilizing it for photosynthesis (by following the elements). Or something like that.” (via gawker, via kottke)

I don’t know about you guys but I’m a sucker for space talk.  I check the space and science sections of reddit almost daily because of the astounding rate at which scientists are making important discoveries about our universe.  It’s truly incredible to be living in a time where our technology finally allows us to peek into new worlds that the geniuses of years past could only dream about.  If there’s life on Titan, even simple bacterial life, then that means there’s life everywhere, in every galaxy across the cosmos.  ”Goldilocks” planets like Earth may be the miraculous treasures of the universe because specific conditions have let evolution of its leash, but now no one should be so vain as to think we’re the only species blessed with intelligence and self-awareness.  Such a discovery would finally throw religion, the opiate of the masses, onto the fire, and in my opinion, rightfully so.  Every big organized religion may provide answers to humanity’s fundamental inquiries, but Christianity provides no more correct an answer than the National Church of Jedi Knights.  Finding life in our very own solar system would prove that we are not “special,” and it’s about time people come to grip with that fact.  Stop killing each other because a book written by humans told you that one track of thinking is right or just, while another track is wrong or evil.

The banner picture is entitled “Pale Blue Dot,” the inspiration for Carl Sagan’s book which describes the true nature of our place in the universe.  Earth is that tiny blue speck in the middle of the right stripe.  The picture was taken from 3.7 billion miles away by the Voyager I space probe as it left our solar system.  Sagan’s most famous passage is under the jump.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

(via wikipedia)

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