Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Four Billion Years Of Evolution

Pluto, Bitches

Pluto, Nearly 5 Billion Miles From Earth, As Seen By New Horizons Probe (via BBC)
 As sapient beings who have four billion years of evolutionary history behind us, we still can't seem to deal with each other very well. Spend even fifteen minutes watching a news feed of events around the world and the old joke (4 Billion Years Of Evolution And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt) seems generally true -- except when it isn't.

Nine-and-a-half years ago, when there was plenty of money to design, build and send scientific packages into deep space, the New Horizons probe was launched. Its ultimate mission was to perform a fly-by of Pluto and photograph as much of its surface as possible before transmitting images and data (via much slower than light radio waves) back to us.

My small request of humanity today is -- in the next few days, when it's night, wherever you are; and depending upon the amount of cloud cover -- to stand somewhere and look up at the night sky. Out There is Pluto, the ninth and last planet in our solar system, over 3 billion miles from Earth.  It takes light from the sun (traveling at 189,000 miles per second) five hours and forty minutes to get out there.

When you look up, feel yourself standing on the earth, Third Rock from the sun. Try remembering where we are, and everything you every knew about our evolution. And think about this:
Because the observations are all run on an automated command sequence, New Horizons had to fly a perfect path past Pluto, and with perfect timing - otherwise its cameras would have shot empty sky where the dwarf or its moons were expected to be.

This necessitated aiming New Horizons at a "keyhole" in space just 100km by 150km (60miles by 90 miles), and arriving at that location within a set margin of 100 seconds.

The last indications were that New Horizons was on the button of that aim point, being perhaps 70km closer to the surface of Pluto than anticipated, and arriving about 72 seconds early -- all this was achieved after a multi-billion-km flight across the Solar System lasting nine-and-a-half years.
As you stand up looking into the sky, remember that we may not know Why We Are Here -- but Here We Are, and we've hurled machines into the heavens to put them almost directly on a target we aimed for, at a distance so far away ...  As a species, we have a right to feel proud of that. Each and every one of us.

1 comment:

  1. Bright Jupiter from dusk until early-to-mid evening. Jupiter and Venus are spectacularly close in late June and early July, and they stay close as they fall nearer and nearer the sunset throughout July, 2015. Venus was spectacularly bright about a week ago in the night sky from a hill by my house. And it was worth taking a minute and putting things into perspective.

    Jupiter shines more brilliantly than any star. It’s the second-brightest planet after Venus. In late June and early July, Venus and Jupiter staged their closest conjunction until August 27, 2016, but will again present a second – though less close – conjunction in the evening sky on July 31 – the same date as this year’s Blue Moon.

    Venus and Jupiter shine fairly close together on the sky’s dome all through July 2015, and both Venus and Jupiter will transition over into the morning sky in August 2015.


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