Friday, September 13, 2013
Boundary of Heaven, Reach of the Gods
In his post on the Voyager spacecraft's most recent milestone, Samurai Frog said:
"[Voyager is] headed out towards nothing in particular, but will come within 1.6 light years of the star Gliese 445, in the Camelopardalis constellation in 40,000 years, assuming it continues on its current course.
"I wonder what things on Earth will be like in 40,000 years."
As someone who both teaches Earth science and works in paleontology, I think about deep time and deep space a lot
40,000 years... It's only since the most recent recession of the continental ice sheets about 12,000 years ago that Man has become civilized as we understand it. For more than 90% of the 200,000 year history of "modern" humans we were barely discernible from the other great apes. No buildings, little technology, no writing.
We have only had iron for about 4,000 years. We have only been using electricity as a tool for about 150 years.
Today I am writing you from dozens to thousands of miles away. You will get the message in less than a second.
200,000 years of history, but only 10,000 of writing, 4,000 of iron, 150 years of electricity and Voyager has crossed beyond the edge of our solar system.
The ancients knew the planets were special because they moved differently from the stars. The stars were trapped in their paths; every year the constellations repeated themselves.
But not the planets. The planets traveled the sky in strange motions, sometimes appearing to even move backwards. We remember this observation in their name: "planet" means "wanderer."
Because they were not forced to move in the same straight lines as the stars, many cultures believed they were somehow connected to the gods who ruled heaven
So I don't know what humans will be like in 40,000 years and I say anyone who thinks they have the answer is a fool.
Because what Roman staring at the sky a meager 1800 years ago would guess that today Man would cross the boundary of heaven, sending a ship beyond the reach of the gods?