Tag: Mars

Day 1000: How It Ends


Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.

Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.

And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.


Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.

If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.

Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat. Read more…

Day 696: Here is Ceres


If you haven’t read the article or seen the t-shirt, you’re probably nevertheless aware that our ninth planet, Pluto, was demoted in 2006 to the meager status of dwarf planet, a lower classification that for whatever reason enraged pockets of the populace. I suspect a chunk of that outrage had to do with one of our ingrained snippets of knowledge – the names of our solar system’s planets – that we remember from elementary school being altered. It’s fundamental, like the names of our Canadian provinces (which has changed) or the five senses (though actually there are several others).

But amid all this weird hype over a remote ice-rock and whether it still gets invited to the same imaginary shindigs as Saturn or Venus, we forgot to celebrate little Ceres. Ceres was also tossed into the dwarf planet class along with Pluto and three others, but for Ceres it was a promotion. Where once she was just a passenger amid the rush-hour gridlock of the asteroid belt, now she reigned supreme.

And as much as we all have Pluto’s name etched in our brains as the last fuelling post before the great black expanse of deep space, we know almost nothing about Ceres. And her secrets might be among the most interesting in our little corner of the cosmos.


Much like the grainy footage of Bigfoot, this is all we’ve got of Ceres: a blur, courtesy of the Hubble Telescope. We know surprisingly little about this chunk of rock, though NASA is aiming to change that when the Dawn spacecraft pays Ceres a visit early in 2015. Ceres was discovered due to math, which means that I’ll be covering this portion of the story using the most vague and non-researched terms possible. Read more…

Day 616: Top Floor – Ladies’ Wear, Shoes, And The Cold Dark Void Of Space


A scientist looks at a problem and asks, “How?” A skeptic looks at a problem and asks, “Why?” A caribou looks at a problem and just keeps on moseying along because a caribou has no damn problems. When faced with the dilemma of constructing a viable and dependable space elevator, the caribou will show no interest, exhibit no signs of stress, and simply carry on eating whatever it is that a caribou eats (I’m guessing raccoons?).

But humankind didn’t get where it is by giving up and eating. No, we packed that food into a quickly-consumable paste of protein and insulating chemicals, threw on our paisley thinking-vests, and addressed the issue with imagination, innovation, and ridiculously difficult math.

Certainly if we can transplant one’s butt hair to one’s head, if we can process cheese into shiny, single-wrapped squares, if we can teach a frog to play “The Rainbow Connection” on the banjo, we can figure out how to build an elevator into space. How hard can it be?


That crazy-looking Russian is Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, scientist, theorist, and professional crazy-looking Russian. His work in astronomic theory paved the way for all those people-packed tubes of steel we’ve tossed beyond the sky. One day, Konstantin was checking out the newly-minted Eiffel Tower and he thought,  “Hey… why can’t we build another one of these, except bigger? Like, all the way to outer space?” Read more…

Day 601: The Thousand-Word Fortune Cookie


The reaction to yesterday’s article, which outlined future planetary events over the next couple centuries, was overwhelming. “It changed the way I see the world,” said one fan that I made up. “So much information in such a callipygian space!” said another, who clearly doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘callipygian’ (it means well-proportioned buttocks).

But the question that was asked most often – I’d like to say by curious fans, but truthfully just by myself during the commercials of a M*A*S*H rerun last night – was what about our lives? Sure, maybe Venus will eclipse Jupiter in 2123, but certainly there must me more I can find out about life on this planet during the short window I’ll get to see.

Well, good news. With 400 articles yet to be slapped upon the giant refrigerator of this project, I have grabbed my next magnet and selected a good mix of forecasts about life on earth to form the basis of today’s entry. Let’s see what we can expect over the next fifty or so years.

I hope it’s all good news.


For starters, there are going to be a lot of us. We just passed the post of seven billion souls (and a handful of soulless folks) on this planet, and in the next 12-13 years we’ll hit eight. Nine billion in the early 40’s, and the United Nations is confident we’ll be bursting at the seams with ten billion people by 2083. I suppose the upswing to global warming is that the toastier temperatures should make the real estate in Greenland a lot more valuable – that’ll take some of the crowd-burden off the rest of us. Read more…

Day 525: Wherefore Art Thou Pluto?


Poor, poor Pluto. For many people, the demotion of Pluto from the ranks of the Elite Nine backing vocalists to the Sun’s great whizzbang show was nothing short of a tragedy. Rallies were held, people marched through the streets with pale orange warpaint smeared across their sweaty faces, and supporters across the globe lit their local Laundromats on fire in a misguided act of defiance. Myself, I refuse to acknowledge Micronesia as a nation until we can once again call Pluto a planet.

Well, bad news everyone. As much as we’d like to cling to the security blanket of our childhood science lessons – the few we remember, anyway – Pluto is not technically a planet. Nor is it sentient, nor is it even aware that it has been demoted. That chunk of ice-rock has had a brief flicker in the window of our awareness, and its ‘status’ has shifted a lot more often than this most recent re-classification.

Oh, and technically Micronesia is a region; the Federated States of Micronesia is a country. So my protest may have been in vain.


Back in the 1840’s, a suave fellow named Urbain Le Verrier noticed there were some quirky wiggles in Uranus’s orbit. ‘Quirky Wiggles’ is not the scientific term – in fact, it would be a great name for a clown at a kid’s party – but the point is, Uranus was acting a little wonky. Using what he learned from Isaac Newton’s lessons on mechanics (which is clearly more than I have learned from them), Le Verrier pinpointed where another planet might be. That planet turned out to be Neptune. Read more…

Day 459: Remembering Your Astrological Symbols


So you want to learn more about astrology. Maybe you’re seeking answers and guidance from the stars, or perhaps you’re just looking to fleece a few bucks off the gullible suckers who think they can find answers and guidance in the stars. No matter – you’re going to need to learn the skill of identifying astronomical symbols.

These little pictographs were used to represent various thingies in the sky, beginning back in the days of the Greek papyri from the late classical era. The standard symbols have been used ever since, from the Byzantine era up through modern times, as a means for astronomers and astrologers to keep track of all those chunks of rock and gases that flicker and fly through the cosmos.

Here’s a handy guide to remembering which symbols are which. Because astrology appears far more mystical and cool when you’re reading unintelligible symbols instead of actual words. Read more…

Day 448: The Soviet Film Defectors


We all know that the USSR and America spent much of the 1960’s throwing stuff up into space to see who could be more sci-fi awesome than the other. But at the same time as highly educated, meticulously-trained astronauts and cosmonauts were taking turns staring down at the planet from a distant orbit, filmmakers were competing for the disposable income of the slobs back home. This was also – though most consumers didn’t know it – an international affair.

I already wrote a piece on the B-Movie phenomenon: cheap throwaway flicks designed to buffer double features and offer a little extra incentive for folks to turn off that newfangled TV and take a trip to the local cinema. I’ve also written about the twisted films in the various exploitation genres that aimed to shock and entertain the most colorful of palettes. This is a fusion of both, but with a weird international twist.


It may not look like it, but those are stills taken from one of 1962’s most sophisticated and high-budget science fiction films. It tells the story of ships travelling from Earth to Venus, encountering danger and death and pterodactyls. The movie is called Planeta Bur, and it was a huge hit in the USSR. Well, it may have been – not a lot of box office stats exist from this period. Read more…

Day 374: Your Curiously Specific Daily Horoscope – January 8


Good morning, children of the star-spooged cosmos. How are you? It’s okay, it’s okay. Madame Chakra-Lubowitz knows how you are. It’s her job to know how you are. It’s also her job to tell you how you shall be. And you shall be well. Most of you, anyway. Some of you are screwed. But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s unlock the stars, plug into the planets and Facetime the future through the mystic sneeze-guard of Zodiac truth.



Make sure you check the expiry date of that yogurt before you callously shove it into your face. Also, that person you loaned money to last week spent most of it on microwavable food at Costco, and knew before they’d freed the first alfredo noodle from its flash-frozen prison that they would never pay you back. Take care, for every third quarter in your pocket is going to tumble through a vending machine or parking meter like pit-stink through cotton. Better bring more than you’ll need; it’ll be one of those damn days.

You'll need this if you even want a hope at that sweet, sweet Mr. Pibb nectar today.

You’ll need this if you even want a hope at that sweet, sweet Mr. Pibb nectar today.

Read more…

Day 228: The Eagle Has Been Landed. In.

Not since Marvin first pointed his ray-gun at Daffy has Mars been such a trending topic in our culture. Grainy photos are plastered all over our 24-hour news cycle, prompting space nuts to swoon and critics to question the point of it all.

So what is the point? NASA’s team tells us that they want to explore the history of Martian climate, whether the planet was ever habitable, and what role water may have played in its development. Again… what’s the point? Mars isn’t inhabitable now, nor will it ever be a viable alternative to our increasingly frail planet. There is a scientific justification that prattles into ‘learning about Mars will teach us about Earth’ territory, but I don’t buy it. When it comes down to it, with an economy that can barely reach up to the rim of the toilet bowl, with environmental and humanitarian crises that pop up around our planet like a perpetual outbreak of panicky zits, why are we spending so much money to fly a little car to Mars to take photos of what passes for a Martian landscape?

Even southern Saskatchewan is more interesting to look at than this.

Because it’s fucking Mars, that’s why.

I grew up in the Space Shuttle era – after we’d stopped square-dancing on the lunar surface and before guys were teaching us yo-yo tricks on the space station. Daredevils never interested me; jumping over parked cars on a motorcycle simply doesn’t hold the same panache as stuffing oneself into a tiny tube and blasting into space. There’s simply no comparison.

Unless you’re jumping over a shark on water-skis. That shit is always interesting.

Read more…

Day 139: Psychophysics, Qu’est-ce que c’est?

The trajectory of this writing experiment is going to fly through some pretty personal space, I’ve accepted that. One of my goals in this exercise is to learn more about myself, why I am the way I am. To that end, I’ll be employing today’s topic – psychophysics –  to help me learn why I am so completely indifferent on the subject of nougat.

Apart from sounding like the most awesome high school science course ever, psychophysics is the scientific study of the relationship between stimulus and sensation. All I really know about this science is what little I’ve skimmed on Wikipedia today, so I’m going to completely misuse it as much as humanly possible. Because this is a solo project, I will be acting as both subject and observer in this experiment. I’m not sure if that is scientifically ethical, especially since it didn’t work out so well for Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, but even that disaster earned a sequel, so I should be okay.

For the required nougat, I will be utilizing the candy bar variety. I know, nougat is sold on its own, mixed with nuts and fruit or whatever, but I grew up near a convenience store, not a confectionary. My encounters with nougat – and my subsequent indifference to it – were forged by the good people at Hershey’s, Cadbury, etc. For this experiment I have purchased a Costco box of Mars (Milky Way for Canadians) and Three Muskateers bars. Using a scalpel and most of my weekend, I removed all traces of chocolate and caramel, leaving me with a stack of unappealing beige slabs. It looks like the most boring animal in the world broke into my house and pooped its beige feces all over my kitchen counter.

I first experimented with the Odor Detection Threshold. I moved to an empty spare bedroom, which may not be lab-pure, but shouldn’t contain any intrusive smells from other foodstuffs, scented candles, potpourri, or seared flesh (I do most of my at-home branding in the den). I deposited three turds of nougat on the dresser, then exited the room. I reentered slowly, keeping track of when I first noticed the odor. Conclusion: I have to be within 2 inches in order to smell the nougat, partly because it doesn’t give off any significant aroma, and partly because my entire house smells like my eldest bulldog, Rufus.

That is to say, not especially good.

Read more…