On Stars, And the Satellites that Love Them

Centuries ago, man pondered if there were advanced beings on cosmos-dancing planets like Mars and Venus. What seemed worlds away has been brought closer by developments of human technology, where satellites have peered into the lifeless surfaces of our nearby planets. Lately, with more advances in human technology, we’ve gained the ability to look at far more distant places and wonder again if there was anyone there to say hello back.

Those advances are brought to us by the space satellite Kepler  – and satellites like it – which detect exoplanets.

No, we can’t zoom our powerful telescopes to view alien races that look like sentient Koala Bears when they are playing checkers. What we can see, however, is the total light given off by the stars, and whether the light from those stars fluctuates in any way.

When the light detected by Kepler decreases for a set amount of time and increases suddenly, that means a distant planet has passed over the light of the star. We call these alien worlds exoplanets. Exoplanets are planets outside of our own Solar System.

For a specific star, (KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby’s star) a strange and exciting phenomenon has been observed. The star’s luminosity, or the amount of light a star gives off and reaches us, has shown several dips in its intensity, all at random increments. While a planet would be periodically moving in front of this star and dipping its light every so often, whatever is in front of this star is a jumbled mess of random objects obstructing the light view!

Whatever is obstructing that light source has scientists’ hearts and minds a flutter with curiosity.

That being said, scientists over the years have pondered about what ultra-advanced civilizations would build. “What is one thing these beings would definitely need?” these scientists ask themselves. “And how would they achieve that need in a very efficient way?”

The obvious answer, according to scientists, is energy.  All civilizations will need something to generate ungodly amounts of sweet, surging volts, amps, and joules of electricity to meet their expanding technological capabilities, along with their population. What would allow a civilization to meet these demands, with energy to spare?

What theoretical scientists call a  “Dyson Sphere”.  This hypothetical object would grant a race of super-smart beings seemingly endless amounts of energy. How would they do it? Why, by building an enormous mega-structure that encompasses – or merely partially blocks – some of a nearby star. Think of it as the next step in solar panels. (Elon Musk should be abducted by these hypothetical aliens anytime now.)

I know what you’re thinking.

“Why do you immediately go to there?! An enormous, futuristic power plant? It could just be a facility that manufactures space pens!”

Well, okay. That’s a fair point. But consider the following: We’re almost 1,500 light years away from this faint beam of light, and yet, we can detect this object passing in front of the star. It is very unlikely (impossible?) a civilization would dedicate that much attention to building space pens. Even though I’m quite positive the quality of these aforementioned pens would be out of this world.

This structure would take an endless supply of natural resources and would not be easy in the slightest to build, let alone maintain and draw energy from. But that’s what makes them super-smart beings. They’ve already figured the hard part out.

The idea that this could be an alien mega-structure is speculation. There has been nothing found to tell us that this could be the work of aliens. In fact, honed in upon the pinpoint of light, astronomers have all but ruled out aliens as an explanation for this phenomenon.

An alternate explanation, say scientists, is that this could be an asteroid and comet hodgepodge of obliterated space rocks, with no sense of order or style. Astronomers are keeping a watchful eye and ear to watch and listen for anything that could tip them off, though. Until then, hone your checkers game. A sentient koala could be awaiting your challenge.

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The Homebody Goes Camping

72…54…23….11…The days were winding down until I finally got the see my bearded man again. The constant question that bombarded – What are you going to do out west? We’re going camping. I’m going camping. I’m going camping? Sam asked it best – Does this guy know you at all? I knew me. I don’t camp. I don’t spend time outside unless the sun is shining or there is an ocean in front of me. What had I gotten myself into? What did I know about camping? Nothing, aside from that fact that I was physically and mentally unprepared. What do you mean we won’t be showering every day? Why can’t I wear cotton? How the hell am I ever going to be ok with peeing outside?

Fast-forward through the two plane rides to Albuquerque, where the cab driver assumed I was in town for business because apparently no one ever comes to Albuquerque for anything else. Fast-forward through the Breaking Bad type views from our hotel on the side of the high way and definitely through the mushy gushy moments of being reunited with the bearded one. Here we are, the morning of Tuesday August 12th, 2015. The car is packed to the brim, equipped with jugs of water, overplayed CDs, and the previous night’s terrible version of pizza, which would remain unrefrigerated and enjoyed over the next two days. We were off.

Ready to go!
Ready to go!

After making the necessary stops – Target, local barbershop (adorned in Jesus paraphernalia), and Trader Joe’s (had to stock up on crunchy peanut butter and cheap champagne), we were officially off. Of course, I made sure to visit every available bathroom, the fear of having to go outside looking over me. Boom. Highway. Lots and lots of highway with lots and lots of emptiness. Wide open skies and fields that went on forever, unless interrupted by, what looked to me like mini mountains. The colors were indescribable. You don’t see those shades of red, orange and purple back east, at least not year round and definitely not on the rocks.

Big Sky
Big Sky

After what seemed like the entire day, we pulled into the Petrified Forest National Park. With the water bottles refilled (guess who was not the one drinking from them every five minutes), post cards bought, the hip hop was back on as we jumped back in the Equinox and began the drive through the park. Arizona is big. HUGE. Never-ending. It looked like we were in the middle of a Western. We pulled over at all the designated pull offs, took photos, and moved on. We saw petrified wood, waded through grass that no doubt held a rattlesnake or two, and watched storms rage in the distance.

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The day was getting older and it was time to keep trudging to Flagstaff. Where would we sleep? That was still undetermined. Fortunately, the Coconino National Forest provided us with our first camping spot for the trip. My first camping spot, ever. It was almost dark and apparently it gets chilly out west when the sun goes down. Who knew. I felt completely useless but Andrew was patient and guided me through tent assemblage and insisted that I sit while he tried his damndest to start a fire despite the wet ground. We dined like kings – Ramen with chicken hotdogs and spinach. It tasted much better than it sounds. But here it is, the moment of truth. My first encounter without indoor plumping. I won’t bombard you with the details, but imagine my stress with accomplishing this task. I was able to phrase it best at a rest stop in Delaware yesterday – one of the great feelings in life is relieving oneself. However, this great feeling does not exist in nature, at least not for me. The stress of keeping aim and not falling over left little room for the relaxation one enjoys after a long period of holding it in. Ok, enough of that.

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The night was actually pretty pleasant. The removable cover on the tent allowed for a view of the stars and the -20 degree bag kept me warm throughout the damp night. The best aspect, aside from the company, had to be the sleeping pad. Picture a pool float. It was like upscale camping. I could get used to this. Luckily, there were no wild animals to be heard (just wait until I discuss California) and I slept peacefully.

Breakfast was pleasant – oatmeal and coffee. I encountered my first two issues with LNT practices, the first being the process of cleaning the cookware. Drinking oatmeal flavored water used to clean the pots was not appealing and I failed miserably at spraying my toothpaste across the dirt rather than just spitting out a big clump. Oh well, I’ll learn. We packed up camp and jumped back on the road (not without making a pit stop at a gas station that was a few miles in the opposite direction – thanks Andrew!). Vermillion Cliffs, were coming for ya!

Bear Haikus

Haiku’s – Bears

Lions and tigers

And holy shit! Fucking Bears?!

Get me outta here!

You prepared for Bears?

Hope you are carr’ing bear spray.

They are just waking up.

Latin Grizzly Bear:

Ursus Arctos Horrib’lis

Not Ricky Martin.

Latin: Grizzly Bear

Ursus Arctos Horrib’lis

Does that frighten you?

Hey Bear!  Hey Black Bear!

Do you have any cubbies?

Don’t be mad at me.