Do You Know the Way to San Mars-se?

©2014 By Bob Litton

I do not recall when we first became inundated with newspaper and magazine articles concerning, or referring to, the possibility of other planets on a scale comparable to Earth’s, and more speculating as to the possibility of intelligent beings populating those planets. Such articles are certainly abundant now.

Of course, ever since the late 19th century much science fiction and fantasy has featured human-like creatures, even articulate strange-looking beings, on other planets. That is where Superman came from and where Flash Gordon ventured to. Mars was the favored home of the “aliens”: note that we often describe them as “aliens” even on their own planets! However, since rapidly accelerating astronomical investigations have completely debunked any notion that Mars supports intelligent life, at least during the near past, the war god’s namesake no longer satisfies science fiction fans. We have had to gaze and fantasize further afield.

We have reached a new plateau in our fantasizing, one that lures us into credulity: The prospecting for life on planets outside our solar system — balls of stellar dust or gases — will take decades, perhaps, for us to determine one way or the other whether we are alone in the universe. Even other solar systems and galaxies are not sufficient to slate our thirst for sister planets: We now hypothesize the existence of “alternate universes”. Seriously.

But back to our galaxy. Thanks to our rocket-mounted instruments and enhanced telescopes here on Earth, the cosmologists claim to have found 750 likely Earth twins; at least that was the number I last saw a month or two ago. Moreover, even before these recent discoveries, scientists frequently argued that, based on statistical probability, with billions or stars in our own universe, many of them with circling tributary planets, the law of averages dictates that Earth for certain has twin planets out there somewhere.

The careers of some astronomers are now concentrated on discovering and analyzing those habitable balls, all of which are multiple light years away from us. One of the purposes of the exploring rocket dubbed “Rosetta” is to serve as a sort of decrypting tool for use by any “Extra Terrestrials (E.T.’s)” on whose doorstep Rosetta eventually plops down exhausted.  Inside the rocket, according to the television show “Cosmos”, is a trove of communication media — everything from glyphs to voice and video recordings employing speakers of dozens of different languages — intended to provide decipherable clues as to who we are and what we do (or did). All of this naturally began as a consequent of our visits to the moon. Astronauts had displaced cowboys as heroes for children.

Early on, I began to wonder why this obsession with the search for other Earths was going forward as urgently as it seems to be proceeding. There were several probable reasons, I learned, none of them exclusive of the others. One, the simplest, was that it was the logical thing to do since our terrestrial frontier had been settled: It was a challenge, like climbing the highest mountain “because it’s there.” Another reason was the Earth’s saturation with population and the concomitant exhaustion of Earth’s resources; famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking said not many moons ago that Mankind will have to find some other place to inhabit soon, because we have no more than a thousand years left to survive here: We were looking for a place where we could retreat as colonists. Still another incentive was to alleviate our fear of being alone; it seemed that the more we learned about the vastness and deathliness of space, the lonelier we felt. Finally, but not least of course, was the scientists’ natural desire to determine, by examining the constituents and development of younger stars and planets, exactly how we originated: the God question.

Since all the “twin Earths” are many light years far, far away, I decided it was time to determine how long it would take me to travel just one light year. Researches informed me that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second and that over an Earth year’s time it traverses 5.88 trillion miles. (We’re getting into some heavy arithmetic here, folks, a skill at which I am the least of adepts!) After much hair-pulling and numeral cross-out’s, I calculated the number of seconds in a light year and the number of seconds in my conceivable life span (assuming I live to the next anniversary of my birth moment): 74 years. Then I divided the latter into the former and arrived at a total of 4.685 lifetimes! And that is just to travel one light year, friends!!! How the hell can we expect to transport ourselves to some “Earth twin” that is several light years away unless we resort to a sequence of clones and/or cryonics?

Of course, we can still colonize the moon and possibly Mars; the “Red Planet” is only 34,649,589 miles (4.35 light minutes) away when our variable orbits are nearest one another; but, to me, those are such dreary places. I might as well hang in here and wave goodbye to the fleet of ark-rockets that will tote everybody else off to a “galaxy far, far away”.

Have a safe journey, my fellow Earthlings!


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