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…
With only a dozen days remaining of my self-imposed sentence in this asylum of perpetual prose, I am scootching toward the realization that there are some topics I will never get to. The hidden subtext within the dialogue of each Misfits of Science episode will remain unexplored, and I’m afraid the sacred ghost notes that elevate the percussive harrumph of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain” and Toto’s “Rosanna” will fail to make the kilograph cut.
Instead I must devote these dog-yawn final days to loftier, more resonant subjects – yesterday’s investigation into Mozart’s poop jokes notwithstanding. And so I look to the moon – that luminous gob of celestial spittle, that pearlesque voyeur who knows all of our funkiest sins, the swiveling muse of the incurable drunkard. The moon pours elbow grease on our tides and provides an alibi when we need one for our meandering sanity. And before we had the cognitive wherewithal to stack our chips on science, the moon provided the palette for some of our strangest superstitions.
The moon puts on a nightly spectacle; what earth-bound broadcast can compare to the thrill of a clump of rock bigger than our entire continent dangling in the air over our heads? And even with Neil Armstrong’s size 9½ prints on her cheeks, she still retains an exotic air of mystery.
Before Georges Méliès stabbed it with a wayward rocket ship, the man in the moon had a starring role in olde-timey mythology. In the biblical Book of Numbers, one of the more cynical stories tells of a man who was sentenced by God to death by stoning for the heinous crime of gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Early Christian lore suggested that the man in the moon was that very man. Another tradition claims the man is Abel’s blood-bro Cain, forever doomed to circle the Earth. Read more…
I’d like to open today’s missive with a few kind words about President Richard M. Nixon. In an act of international fraternity and savvy diplomatic P.R., the Nixon administration celebrated the American victory in the Space Race by doling out gifts of free moon rocks to every state, every US territory, and a long list of nations. Ever since humankind first stretched its grumpy morning arms over its evolutionary head we have been fascinated by that giant glowing rock in the sky. Now Dick Nixon was dispersing little bits of it all over the world. It’s kind of sweet, really.
The rocks – four per gift, each about the size of a Nerds candy – were mounted in an acrylic bubble within a commemorative plaque that also featured that nation or state’s flag, which had been part of the Apollo 11 payload. So everyone was getting a print of their own flag which had been to space, as well as a few morsels of lunar gravel. The gift was repeated once more after Apollo 17 with a fresh batch of moon-crumbs.
NASA has always been meticulous about tracking the whereabouts of every lunar sample that has been packed in our cosmic carry-on and brought back home. But once these babies touched down into foreign palms, NASA no longer followed their progress, probably assuming that each would end up in some museum under armed surveillance and the snazziest of security. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Out of 270 gifted rock-nugget plaques, roughly 180 have since gone missing. Nixon’s gesture of international goodwill clearly received a meh-level fanfare from the majority of its recipients. In 1998, NASA became sufficiently irked by the growing black market for lunar pebbles that they decided to team up with the US Postal Service for a sting operation. Joseph Gutheinz helmed the scheme for NASA, and along with postal Inspector Bob Cregger they plopped an ad into USA Today looking to buy up some moon rocks. Read more…
Even for those of us who don’t hang their spiritual hats upon the rack of organized religion, there exists the very real possibility that we are cosmically intertwined with forces and energies mightier (and invisiblier) than our own. Some of these forces – gravity, aging, the uncontestable craving for pizza after a night of drinking – have been proven. Others are clearly ridiculous (if you think you’re more of an aggressive driver because of your astrology sign, you’re wrong; you might just be an asshole). Still others are open to interpretation.
I have had this discussion with my wife so often, it’s almost like watching a rerun whenever the topic comes up. She is a teacher, spending her days surrounded by squalid little junior-high germ-buckets whose behaviors are subject to hormonal whim and hyperactive attention spans that could frustrate a housefly. She is convinced that when the moon is full, her students become more unruly, more emotionally explosive. A walk past our kitchen calendar can send a telegraph of dread up her spine.
Ever the cynic, the skeptic, the buzz-kill (her descriptor, not mine), I disagree. The moon is hovering in the sky, some sixty-five billion miles (give or take a lot) from these children’s fluttery brains. How could a slab of grey rock minding its business in our orbit possibly transform these grub-balls into more manic grub-balls? It’s time to do some really quick and sloppy research and settle this once and for all.
If there’s one concession I’ll grant my wife’s argument it’s that she has buckets of history on her side. Aristotle and Pliny the Elder observed that full moons would spark psychotic episodes among those who were susceptible to such things. Right through the 1700’s, actual doctors believed that the moon phase would have an impact on epileptic seizures, rheumatism and fevers. Hell, even the Latin word for moon, ‘luna’, forms the root of the word ‘lunatic’. This is not a recent superstition.
Are we hornier at a full moon? Do women’s reproductive systems tend to spurt out babies when our sky is lit up by a perfect white circle? Do our veins bleed more on that one day of every month? Read more…
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…
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…
That is the sullen yet learned face of Sir John Herschel, the greatest astronomer of his time, “his time” clearly coming before the advent of quality hair product. In 1835, he taught us all about the secret goings-on taking place upon the moon’s surface, including trees, oceans, beaches, and a variety of thriving animal life. Herschel wasn’t insane, nor was he horrendously bad at his job. His name was simply appropriated for the purposes of an elaborate prank.
The articles – and there were six full articles about this weirdness – appeared in the reputable New York Sun, the most conservative of the three New York dailies. They claimed that an extraordinary new telescope at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa had unveiled a previously unheard-of civilization on the lunar surface. The author of these pieces, which had previously been published in the Edinburgh Journal of Science, was one Dr. Andrew Grant, travelling companion and amanuensis (a dude who takes dictation) of Dr. Herschel.
Of course, Dr. Andrew Grant didn’t exist, and these articles never sullied the pages of any journal of science. But it sounded legit, and they even included pictures.
Every so often, which is to say almost every day, I find myself writing about a topic I know nothing about, flailing desperately to sound slightly educated on the matter, when in fact I’m mostly relying on information from my dark she-mistress, Wikipedia, and the crap I make up as I go along. This will be one of those days.
Last week, I penned an in-depth horoscope for those who still possess the child-like naivety that fate is guided by the relationship between the stars and planets and (because we’re that important) us. Later that day, whilst chatting with Cynndie, the naturopath who works at the place where I receive my thrice-daily skin-buffings, the topic arose of the mysterious ‘13th Sign’.
Not, apparently, a Demi Moore film.
In case you missed it, there was a controversy a couple years ago in the astrology world. Old-school Babylonians – whose wisdom should no doubt directly influence whether or not you’ll meet an old acquaintance today – invented the Zodiac signs by reading which constellation the sun was creeping through on a given day. That clearly worked out well for them, given that you can’t find a single Babylonian wandering the streets today. Really, these are the people who are telling me what career choices I should make? Read more…