Our home in the vast cosmos, the Milky Way galaxy, contains an estimated 300 billion stars. Because of photographs taken by the Hubble orbiting telescope, we now know that there at the least hundreds of billions of other galaxies out there and maybe more, each one of which contains such large numbers of stars.
In fact the number of stars visible in our telescopes exceeds the number of individual sand grains on the planet earth. Think about that for a moment. Sitting on your favorite beach, just dig up a handful of sand. It contains about 3,000 grains. Imagine how many handfuls you could dig up on that one beach alone. Then imagine all the beaches in the world, and do not forget about the deserts too. That is a lot of grains of sand! We now know planets circling around those stars are not an oddity. They seem to be the rule not the exception.
The big question astronomers are asking these days is, could there be other life out there somewhere? The odds certainly seem to be in favor of it. Are we talking about advanced life like us, or simple one celled creatures like amoeba? Personally, I think simple life is relatively easy for the universe to come up with. It would not surprise me if we find it on Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
What about advanced life? Somebody we could actually talk to, and exchange ideas with? I think that kind of life is few and far between in the universe. That is a theory that could be easily disproved, however. Somebody could show up one day and say, “Hi, there, I bet you are wondering what’s going on!” To prove my theory we would have to go out there and start looking around.
Not around here
Forget about our solar system. All of the planets and moons, other than our earth, are completely inhospitable to anything resembling advanced life that we can visualize. That means we will have to venture out into interstellar space, a formidable task indeed! But guess what? Right next door, cosmically speaking, there is a planet circling the star nearest to us, and it is in the habitable zone of that star where water can remain in a liquid state.
All we have to do is have a few astronauts climb on board a space ship and head off. There are a few problems, though, like it would take our fastest rocket 75,000 years to get there. That is a long time. The Trojan War was a mere 3,000 years ago. How could anyone possibly survive a time frame like that?
One idea would be to launch a generational ship. Imagine a big space ship with food-growing capabilities, and all the necessary supplies to allow the great, great, I do not how many greats, grandchildren of the original voyagers to one day walk on that distant world. Could a space ship possibly last 75,000 years? We trade in a car after five or 10 years, so I doubt we could expect a mechanical vehicle to last much more than a couple of hundred at best. Would the inhabitants get along for lifetime after lifetime, or even remember what they were doing out there for all that time?
Another idea would be a sleep ship where the cosmonauts went into some kind of suspended animation for 75,000 years and did not need to be entertained, fed or persuaded to persist in such an unlikely endeavor. But would you trust the complicated mechanisms required to keep your body alive for 25 times the time elapsed since the Trojan War?
A third and more feasible idea for transporting humans through the mind-numbing distances between the stars would be a seed ship. A space ship that would carry human DNA to another world where it would grow and evolve into a life form that would be adaptable to another planet. If that plan sounds intriguing to you, then you might want to read my first ever science fiction novel coming out this spring. More on that later.
Meanwhile back to more practical matters like what you can see up in the sky tonight. First, look for the most eye-catching and brilliant object besides the moon in the night sky, the planet Venus. She is high in the heavens now and impossible to ignore. There is no hurry to see it, as she will be around all winter and spring way up in the west just after it gets dark.
All the bright stars of winter, Sirius, Rigel and Betelgeuse, are on full display and easy to spot now. Have fun out there and do not get your hopes up about visiting others planets anytime soon.