I discovered Science Fiction when I was in the 8th grade, circa 1959. It has been an almost drug like recreation for me ever since. It allowed me an escape from the upside down Vietnam era, especially during the three years I was in the Army. It allowed me to escape from jobs I hated, a marriage that wasn't always going too well and two teenage sons who at time seemed to be from an alternate universe themselves. More recently you all know what I have been escaping when I go where no man has gone yet.
I have escaped to a universe where it is possible to travel between stars in a few days, in a few weeks, in a few months or in the case of Frank Herbert's Dune universe an instant. As a scientist and an engineer I know that for that to be possible everything we know about physics and the universe must be wrong. I also know that's true even if faster than light travel isn't possible.
The universes I have visited through the minds of the many great science fiction authors included thousands or even millions of earth like planets. Is this just as unrealistic as faster than light travel?
The more we learn about the solar system and now the universe the more we realize just how unique the spaceship earth is. We all know it's the right distance from the sun - not too hot, not too cold. It has a favorable atmosphere - we have ideas on how that atmosphere formed and we now realize why it's still here. The planet Earth has a molten core of iron and nickle and as a result has a magnetic field. The importance of this magnetic field goes far beyond making a compass point north. The magnetic field extends beyond the surface of the earth and deflects a portion of the solar wind of charged particles. Without the magnetic field that solar wind would erode the atmosphere faster than it could be replaced. In short the planet Earth would look like Mars.
Science Fiction writers have truly been prophets. In a sequel to his classic The Foundation Trilogy Isaac Asimov describes the search for the then mythical Earth. A big part of that myth was a satellite, the moon, very large in relation to the size of the planet and a rarity. Well as it turns out Issac Asimov was right.
Earth's Moon is 'cosmic rarity'
Moons like the Earth's - which are formed in catastrophic collisions - are extremely rare in the Universe, a study by US astronomers suggests.We all know about the tides the moon causes in the sea. I heard today that on this full moon day the difference between high and low tide on the Oregon coast will be 13 feet. But there are earth tides as well - millimeters instead of feet but related to earthquakes and volcanoes. Is the moon partly responsible for the conditions that made life on earth and humans possible?
The Moon was created when an object as big as the planet Mars smacked into the Earth billions of years ago.
The impact hurled debris into orbit, some of which eventually consolidated to form our Moon.
The Astrophysical Journal reports that just 5-10% of planetary systems in the Universe have moons created this way.
"When a moon forms from a violent collision, dust should be blasted everywhere," said lead author Nadya Gorlova of the University of Florida in Gainesville, US.
"If there were lots of moons forming, we would have seen dust around lots of stars - but we didn't."
It's almost enough to make me rethink my atheism but then I took a lot of statistics as well and it was bound to happen somewhere.