This could be one of the most significant discoveries in the history of astronomy. Planet-hunters at the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland have reported finding what may be the first of many "earth type planets" inhabiting the Milky Way Galaxy, in a solar system designated Gliese 581, approximately 20.5 light years from Earth, in the constellation Libra. The planet, designated Gliese 581 C, is roughly 1.5 times larger than the Earth, with about five times greater mass, and orbits its sun, an MV class red dwarf, in a period of slighly more than 14 days.
The major significance of this particular finding is extraordinary on several levels: first, this is the smallest planet located to-date, and is much closer in size to Earth than any "exoplanet" previously discovered. Secondly, the planet orbits in its parent star's "habitable zone", meaning that temperatures at the surface (estimated to range from 0 to 40 degrees centigrade) are sufficient for sustaining liquid water, which is essential for the formation of organic life. Finally, the discovery of a potentially earth-like planet in relative proximity to our own solar system may indicate that such planets are more common than has been previously theorized.
The challenge has always been to glean these tiny bits of rock, mist and chemicals from the incredibly small perturbations they cause in the gravitmetric readings of their parent stars; the so-called "gravitational wobble", or Doppler shift of the star's orbit as viewed from Earth, caused by the passage of another object, usually a Jupiter-sized or larger gas giant in front of the star. The wobble is much more difficult to detect for Earth-sized planets, and astronomers were waiting for more sophisticated instruments to help them refine their search. The fact that this particular planet has been located using the older, less exacting method, bodes well for the prospect of discovering even more similarly scaled planets in our celestial neighborhood. There's no guarantee of course that any of these planets do in fact harbor life, let alone anything approaching intelligent life, but the odds increase with each earth-like planet we catalogue.
The implication of such a discovery would be literally earth-shattering; everything we know - or rather think we know - about our place in the universe would be completely turned on its head by the discovery of extra-terrestrial life.
And that discovery may now happen sooner than we think.
What with the near continuous Spring deluge recently, we finally got a decent weekend's worth of weather (to be fair, we've had decent weekend days recently, but since I spent the last five consecutve Saturdays doing 8 - 10 hours of tax returns, they were easy to overlook), and it got used mightily in a veritable whirlwind of projects.
Saturday: mowed the lawn; raked, piled and bagged the remainder of last Fall's leaves from the parking strip; weed-whacked & edge trimmed front and side yard; pulled up many, many dandelions; turned compost; began clearing box gardens.
Sunday: spring cleaning of the boat, phase I - oiled interior teak surfaces, polished brass, vacuumed, begun cleaning fiberglass interior bulkheads.
There's plenty of both projects left over for probably the next several weekends, and since my back seems to have healed (no relapses this weekend, thankfully), I should be able to get things whipped into shape fairly soon. Opening Day is a scant 12 days hence, and I'd like to at least get the girl spiffed up a bit, even if not exactly "ship shape and Bristol fashion" by then. Not that I'll be showing her off to anyone outside the marina, as I still haven't been able to get the engine started after the last "repair" job in the fall, and so I'm going to have to either find a REPUTABLE mobile marine mechanic, or, have her towed to a repair dock. Either option means $$, which I was otherwise hoping to save for the trip East in July.
It's been one of those weeks. You know, things have happened. Things. Life. Death. Taxes. Lather, rinse, repeat.
All of this week's horrible events makes writing about mundane, trivial day-to-day matters seem pointless, or at best selfish when viewed in the larger scheme of things. But humans have a remarkable ability to (depending on your own perspective) either compartmentalize or just plain ignore the terrible things that happen somewhere in the world, on a daily basis. Of course we Americans also have a similar ability to inflate the scale of tragedies that occur on our own shores, or tow our fellow citizens as being somehow inherently more tragic than similarly horrific events that happen somewhere else to complete strangers; and I suppose that's natural to some extent. People in Bagdhad or Kabul probably feel pretty much the same way when reading about our local catastrophes and mass killings.
Not that that's how we should view these kinds of events - tragedy is tragedy regardless of where it occurs or to whom - it's just something I've been thinking about these past few days.
"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”
I can barely walk today. Evidentlly, six plus weeks of semi-regular exercise counts for nothing when compared with three straight hours of intensive yardwork. I actually had a moment yesterday at the mega-hardware store, when I knelt down to pick up something off a bottom shelf and was afraid I wouldn't be able to straighten myself back up again. Three 500 mg generic Tylenols did little to aleviate the pain last night, and today I've developed the posture of a little old man.
This will not do.
On a positive note, I received an email on Friday from the Artistic Director of this theatER, asking if was interested in directing another episode for their next round of "Twilight Zones" late night performances, so I spent my chair-ridden Sunday afternoon watching a half dozen of them online, and found a couple of likely candidates. Of course, this is once again all falling together a the last minute, as apparently they've switched their late night programming around, and these weren't originally slotted until August. So, auditions next weekend (which of course conflict with my last round of tax appointments), and then jumping right into rehearsals. Still, it shouldn't be too tough, having done this before, and also because I'm only going to be directing one of the two episodes.
I'm going to Philly mid-July for The Job's bi-annual National Convention, and I'm thinking about flying in a few days early (pending scheduling for this) to make with the touristy. I've never been, and not exactly certain where we'll be staying yet, although I assume it will be somewhere in the downtown "core", but I figure there ought to be oodles of things to see and do. However, since I'm only going to have at most three days to pack it all in (there really won't be time for sight-seeing during the convention itself), I'd like to maximize my tourist quotient.
So, if any of you out there have been to the Philly/Baltimore/DC area, what are the absolute must-see touristy things I should do? I'd like to get to D.C. for at least a day, which I realize isn't much time really, and I haven't decided whether I want to go to the trouble and expense of renting a car, although it might make more sense, since trains seem to be pretty expensive, and it would give me more mobility & flexibility. Anyway, should I forego some of the outlying attractions and just hit the mall? Should I try to catch a Nationals game? (unfortunately, both the Phillies and the Orioles are out of town that week, and - naturally - Baltimore is playing in Seattle), Should I just not bother with D.C. at all, and focus my time and travel around Philadelphia proper? What about Jamestown? How do survive the heat & humidity? Are there things I should specifically avoid?