Wednesday, January 11, 2006

About That Hyperdrive

by Tom Bozzo

As people who are much better at math than I am try to figure out whether travel at what we would otherwise know as superluminal velocities is physically possible, I submit that at least one of the following is true:
The most unsettling feeling I ever get is when I am somewhere outside the city and look up at the stars at night. You can see about 6,000 stars with the naked eye, a number that seems graspable. But, there are 100,000,000,000 stars in our galaxy and 100,000,000,000 galaxies, or ~10^18 stars, each of which may have planets, some of which may harbor life. It's too much to comprehend. We have decent knowledge of just one solar system and we have only visited a few planets with robots. I sure hope that hyperspace travel or communication is possible, because I don't want to die without some understanding of what it all means.
I'm feeling pessimistic. Maybe any society that comes close to that level of technological achievement invariably destroys itself before it gets around to interstellar travel.
There is a little song that I feel fits this particular topic, and someone has to sing it....

Just remember that your standing on a planet that's evolving,
and revolving at nine hundred miles an hour...
That's orbiting at ninety miles a second, so it's reckoned,
the sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me, and all the stars that we can see,
are moving at a million miles a day.
in an outer spiral-arm at forty thousand miles an hour
of the galaxy we call the Milky Way.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars,
it's a hundred thousand lightyears side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand lightyears thick,
but out by us it's just three thousand lightyears wide.
We're thirty thousand lightyears from galactic central point,
we go 'round every two hundred million years.
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions,
in this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
in all of the directions it can whiz.
As fast as it can go, that's the speed of light you know;
twelve million miles a minute, that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember when your feeling very small and insecure,
how amazingly unlikely is your birth,
and pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'cause there's bugger-all down here on earth!
Candace: Welcome!

Sara: Thank you, that needed to be posted.

The not quite pessimistic (but lonely) view is that a corrollary of Bryan's observation is that there could be 10^11 super-advanced civilizations in the universe at any given time, and the mean density would be roughly one per galaxy.

An alternate take via Charlie Stross is that super-advanced civilizations tend to stick close to home because it's difficult to obtain sufficient communications bandwidth over interstellar distances.

Whatever, I am with Bryan in that knowing how alone (or not) we are in the universe is one of the most fundamentally interesting questions there is, and it would be great to gain a *lot* more knowledge than we presently have.

Sadly, Bushism is not terribly interested in space science.
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