We have loved the stars
too fondly to be fearful of the night.
- Tombstone epitaph
of two amateur astronomers
Mortal as I am, I know
that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried
multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch
- Ptolemy,c.150 AD
With every passing hour
our solar system comes forty-three thousand miles closer to globular cluster
13 in the constellation Hercules, and still there are some misfits who
continue to insist that there is no such thing as progress.
- Ransom K. Ferm
For I dipped into the
Future, far as the human eye could see; saw the vision of the world, and
all the wonder that would be.
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson,
- Buzz Aldrin's description of the Moon (and perhaps outer space)
He preferred the hard
truth to his dearest illusions.
- Carl Sagan's epitaph
to astronomer Johannes Kepler
The world is my country,
and science is my religion.
- Christian Huygens,
17th century Dutch astronomer
God is infinite, so His
universe must be too. Thus is the excellence of God magnified and the greatness
of His kingdom made manifest; He is glorified not in one, but in countless
suns; not in a single earth, a single world, but in a thousand thousand,
I say in an infinity of worlds.
- Giordana Bruno,
1584, "On the Infinite Universe and Worlds" [Executed by the Inquisition]
What grander idea can
the mind of man form to itself than a prodigious, glorious and firy globe
hanging in the midst of an infinite and boundless space surrounded with
bodies of whom our earth is scarcely any thing in comparison, moving their
rounds about its body and held tight to their respective orbits by the
attractive force inherent to it while they are suspended in the same space
by the Creator's almighty arm! And then let us cast our eyes up to the
spangled canoply of heaven, where innumerable luminaries at such an immense
distance from us cover the face of the skies. All suns as great as that
which illumines us, surrounded with earths perhaps no way inferior to the
ball which we inhabit and no part of the amazing whole unfilled! System
running into system, and worlds bordering on worlds! Sun, earth, moon,
stars be ye made, and they were made!
- Edmund Burke, at age 15 praising the 'noble science' of astronomy
"The kings came and
fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo;
they took no gain of silver; They fought from heaven; the stars in their
courses fought against Sisera."
- from "The Song of Deborah", Judges 5:17-19
"Another day, another
ball of fire rising in the sky."
- from the narration to "The Naked City"
We live in a changing
universe, and few things are changing faster than our conception of it.
- Timothy Ferris, "The Whole Shebang"
Lost in the milky way,
- The Lightning Seeds,
"The Life of Reilly"
"No known roof is as beautiful
as the skies above."
Smile at the empty
And wait for the moment
When a million chances
may all collide.
- Michael O'Muircheartaigh
"The long haired star."
- The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes Haley's Comet (1066)
Following the light
of the sun, we left the Old World.
- Inscription on
"A star shines on the
hour of our meeting."
- Elvish greeting,
"The Lord of the Rings"
How quickly do we grow
accustomed to wonders. I am reminded of the Isaac Asimov story "Nightfall,"
about the planet where the stars were visible only once in a thousand years.
So awesome was the sight that it drove men mad. We who can see the stars
every night glance up casually at the cosmos and then quickly down again,
searching for a Dairy Queen.
- Roger Ebert, from a movie review in the "Chicago Sun Times"
The meek shall inherit
the Earth. And the rest of us will go to the stars.
- Omni Magazine
Telescopes are in some
ways like time machines. They reveal galaxies so far away that their light
has taken billions of years to reach us. We in astronomy have an advantage
in studying the universe, in that we can actually see the past.
We owe our existence
to stars, because they make the atoms of which we are formed. So if you
are romantic you can say we are literally starstuff. If you're less romantic
you can say we're the nuclear waste from the fuel that makes stars shine.
We've made so many
advances in our understanding. A few centuries ago, the pioneer navigators
learnt the size and shape of our Earth, and the layout of the continents.
We are now just learning the dimensions and ingredients of our entire cosmoc,
and can at last make some sense of our cosmic habitat.
- Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of Great Britain
I know one thing. "Stephen
Hawking's Universe" is not a place for the faint of heart or feebleminded.
It's a place of great black holes, Big Bangs and physicists on the prowl.
It's where your theory of relativity can't get along with my quantum mechanics...
The series is about how the universe developed, how it's more or less held
together, and what'll become of it. There are at least two possible answers
to that last question -- infinite expansion, or a most unfortunate crunch.
Scientists will get back to you with a more definitive answer once they
figure out how much dark matter is hiding from view.
- John Carman, reviewing Hawking's documentary series, "San Francisco Chronicle"
# ALIEN LIFE
Think again of those
astronomers who beamed radio signals into space from Arecibo, describing
Earth's location and its inhabitants. In its suicidal folly that act rivalled
the folly of the last Inca emperor, Atahuallpa, who described to his gold-crazy
Spanish captors the wealth of his capital and provided them with guides
for the journey. If there really are any radio civillizations within listening
distance of us, then for heaven's sake let's turn off our own transmitters
and try to escape detection, or we are doomed. Fortunately for us, the
silence from outer space is deafening. What woodpeckers (they are the only
species on the planet to have developed means to dig holes in living trees
to eat insects living under bark) teach us about flying saucers is that
we are unlikely to ever see one.
- Jared Diamond,
"The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee"
So far as I know, every
such story has alien intelligences which treat humans as approximate equals,
either as friends or foes. It is assumed that A-I will either be friends,
anxious to communicate and trade, or enemies who will fight and kill, or
possibly enslave, the human race. There is another and more humiliating
possibility - alien intelligences so superior to us and so indifferent
to us as to be almost unaware of us. They do not even covet the surface
of the planet where we live - they live in the stratosphere. We do not
know whether they evolved here or elsewhere - will never know. Our mightiest
engineering formations they regard as coral formations, i.e., seldom noticed
and considered of no importance. We aren't even nuisances to them. And
they are no threat to us, except that their engineering might occasionally
disturb our habitat, as the grading done for a highway disturbs gopher
holes. Some few of them might study us casually - or might not.
- Robert A. Heinlein,
"Grumbles from the Grave"
"The large-scale homogeneity
of the universe makes it very difficult to believe that the structure of
the universe is determined by anything so peripheral as some complicated
molecular structure on a minor planet orbiting a very average star in the
outer suburbs of a fairly typical galaxy."
- Steven Hawking
"Chances are, when
we meet intelligent life forms in outer space, they're going to be descended
- Michio Kaku
"The United States
military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens,
and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having
- Paul Theodore Hellyer, former Canadian Defence Minister
Cumbria, once an apparent
hotbed of alien activity, has seen the decline of its local chapter, the
Cumbria British UFO Hunters, to total quiescence. Maybe those space-hopping
tentacled beasties have seen enough of Cumbria this last half-century.
Imagine it: fly for millions of light years across the universe and then
you end up in Workington. One can only imagine their dismay and disappointment.
When the Cold War
was at its most chilly, back in the 1950s, movies portrayed aliens as sinister
and hostile; the thaw in the 1980s led to ET, Close Encounters and Jeff
Bridges’s loveable Starman. Now that the Cold War is over, the subconscious
paranoia has been dispelled too. Well, maybe. Some UFO experts have even
argued what is, in effect, the precise reverse of this; that reality, these
days, is more worrying than the imagined threat from beyond our world.
We need not dream up exotic alien invaders when we have maniacal Muslim
fundamentalists with an antithetical culture living covertly among us,
ready to blow us to oblivion. For Americans and, I suspect, a good many
Brits, Algeria is every bit as alien as Alpha Centauri.
Our much greater awareness
of military hardware may also explain the decline in people reporting strange
craft tearing silently across the sky. The first UFO sightings came about
at the dawn of the jet age, when there was frantic military expenditure
and experimentation in new forms of aircraft, all shrouded in the deepest
secrecy. These days, we are aware of stealth bombers; we’ve even seen them
A perfectly serious
thesis advanced for the rapid decline of UFO reports is that our bifocals
have improved to the extent that we are far less likely, these days, to
mistake a flying squirrel or the 06.41 Heathrow to Paris 737 for an alien
space ship; we see things altogether too clearly in the 21st century, both
literally and metaphorically.
- Rod Liddle, on the decline of UFO sightings, "The Spectator"
# ALL ALONE IN THE
For many planet hunters,
though, the ultimate goal is still greater (or actually, smaller) prey
: terrestrial planets, like Earth, circling a star like the Sun. Astronomers
already know that three such planets orbit at least one pulsar. But planet
hunters will not rest until they are in sight of a small blue world, warm
and wet, in whose azure skies and upon whose wind-whipped oceans shines
a bright yellow star like our own.
- Ken Croswell, "Planet
The issue, as correctly
emphasized by Carl Sagan, is the probability of the evolution of high intelligence
and an electronic civilization on an inhabited world. Once we have life
(and almost surely it will be very different from life on Earth), what
is the probability of its developing a lineage with high intelligence?
On Earth, among millions of lineages of organisms and perhaps 50 billion
speciation events, only one led to high intelligence; this makes me believe
in its utter improbability.
- Ernest Mayr, commenting during "The
SETI Debate" (submitted byAffable Athiest)
On Earth, among millions
of lineages or organisms and perhaps 50 billion speciation events, only
one led to high intelligence ; this makes me believe its utter improbablity.
- Ernst Mayr, biologist,
Calculations of the probability
of other inhabited planets in our Galaxy are rather meaningless at this
stage of our knowledge of the origin of life. But in the framework of the
cosmological principle we should assume that there is at least one inhabited
planet per galaxy.
- Michael Rowan-Robinson,
Sometimes I think we're
alone. Sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the prospect is staggering!
- Arthur C.Clarke,
contemplating the existence of Alien Life
After I give lectures
- on almost any subject - I am often asked, "Do you believe in UFOs?".
I'm always struck by how the question is phrased, the suggestion that this
is a matter of belief and not evidence. I'm almost never asked, "How good
is the evidence that UFOs are alien spaceships?".
- Carl Sagan, "The
Demon Haunted World", p.78
Occasionally, I get a
letter from someone who is in 'contact' with aliens. I am invited to ask
them anything. And over the year's I've prepared a little list of questions.
The aliens are very advanced remember. So I ask things like, 'Please provide
a short proof of Fermat's Last Theorem'. I write out the simple theorem
equation with the exponents. It's a simulating exercise to think of questions
to which no human today knows the answers, but where a correct answer would
be recognised as such. It's even more challenging to formulate such questions
in fields other than mathematics. Perhaps we should hold a contest and
collect the best responses in '10 Questions to Ask an Alien'.
- Carl Sagan, "The
Demon Haunted World", p.95
We are like the inhabitants
of an isolated valley in New Guinea who communicate with societies in neighboring
valleys (quite different societies, I might add) by runner and by drum.
When asked how a very advanced society will communicate, they might guess
by an extremely rapid runner or by an improbably large drum. They might
not guess a technology beyond their ken. And yet, all the while, a vast
international cable and radio traffic passes over them, around them, and
We will listen for
the interstellar drums, but we will miss the interstellar cables. We are
likely to receive our first messages from the drummers of the neighboring
galactic valleys - from civilizations only somewhat in our future. The
civilizations vastly more advanced than we, will be, for a long time, remote
both in distance and in accessibility. At a future time of vigorous interstellar
radio traffic, the very advanced civilizations may be, for us, still insubstantial
- Carl Sagan, "The
If a large number of people
who are convinced alien abductions are real are hypnotising even larger
numbers of others who suspect they might be, then it is likely there will
be many alien abduction narratives flying around, as, indeed, there are.
Of course, this is not proof they are not true, but it does provide a persuasive
context for a simple psychosocial explanation. Hypnotism is a technique
that triggers a mass storytelling project in which all the stories are
- Bryan Appleyard, "Aliens: Why They Are Here"
The destruction of
this planet would have no significance on a cosmic scale: to an observer
in the Andromeda nebula, the sign of our extinction would be no more than
a match flaring for a second in the heavens: and if that match does blaze
in the darkness there will be none to mourn a race that used a power that
could have lit a beacon in the stars to light its funeral pyre. The choice
- Stanley Kubrick
If we are still here to
witness the destruction of our planet some five billion years or more hence,
then we will have achieved something so unprecedented in the history of
life that we should be willing to sing our swansong with joy - Sic Transit
- Stephen Jay Gould,
"The Panda's Thumb"
This is the way the world
ends - Not with a bang but a whimper.
- T. S. Eliot, "The
Many people don't believe
in God, do believe in the eventual heat death of the universe, yet despite
that they continue to live and act as if their lives actually meant something.
- Ray Butterworth
# SPACE TRAVEL
But does Man have any
"right" to spread through the universe? Man is what he is, a wild animal
with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition.
Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics,
you name it, is nonsense. Correct morals arise from knowing what man is,
not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to
be. The Universe will let us know - later - whether or not Man has any
"right" to expand through it.
- Robert A. Heinlein,
I have no doubt that Christians
can support the exploration and use of space. The so-called "science commission"
in Genesis 1:28 certainly seems to apply to any part of the material creation
which God places within man's reach.
- Rev. Paul A. Bartz,
Bible-Science Newsletter, October 1990
When we are a million
species spreading through the galaxy, the question "Can man play God and
still stay sane?" will lose some of its terrors. We shall be playing God,
but only as local deities and not as lords of the universe. There is safety
in numbers. Some of us will become insane, and rule over empires as crazy
as Doctor Moreau's island. Some of us will shit on the morning star. There
will be conflicts and tragedies. But in the long run, the sane will adapt
and survive better than the insane. Nature's pruning of the unfit will
limit the spread of insanity among species in the galaxy, as it does among
individuals on earth. Sanity is, in its essence, nothing more than the
ability to live in harmony with nature's laws.
- Freeman Dyson,
"Disturbing The Universe"
We have your satellite
if you want it back send 20 billion in Martian money. No funny business
or you will never see it again.
- Seen on a hall
wall at NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs
The Space Shuttle is the
most effective device known to man for destroying dollar bills.
- US Congressman
From now on, we live in
a world where man has walked on the moon. It wasn't a miracle, we just
decided to go.
- Jim Lovell,"Apollo
The earth is simply too
small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in.
- Arthur C. Clarke
"Why don't they make more
science fiction movies?"
The answer to any
question starting, "Why don't they-" is almost always, "Money."
- Robert A. Heinlein,
"Shooting Destination Moon"
Fate has ordained that
the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon
to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know
that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there
is hope for mankind in their sacrifice. These two men are laying down their
lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned
by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they
will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into
the unknown. In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world
to feel as one; In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes
in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes
are epic men of flesh and blood. Others will follow, and surely find their
way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first,
and they will remain the foremost in our hearts. For every human being
who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is
some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
- speech prepared in case of failure of Apollo Moon Mission for Pres. Nixon
# THE FUTURE
Cosmology does, I think,
affect the way that we perceive humanity's role in nature. One thing we've
learnt from astronomy is that the future lying ahead is more prolonged
than the past. Even our sun is less than halfway through its life.
- Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of Great Britain
"The long-term survival
of the human race is at risk as long as it is confined to a single planet.
Sooner or later, disasters such as an asteroid collision or nuclear war
could wipe us all out. But once we spread out into space and establish
independent colonies, our future should be safe. There isn't anywhere like
the Earth in the solar system, so we would have to go to another star.
If we used chemical fuel rockets like the Apollo mission to the moon, the
journey to the nearest star would take 50,000 years. This is obviously
far too long to be practical, so science fiction has developed the idea
of warp drive, which takes you instantly to your destination. Unfortunately,
this would violate the scientific law which says that nothing can travel
faster than light. However, we can still within the law, by using matter/antimatter
annihilation, at least reach just below the speed of light. With that,
it would be possible to reach the next star in about six years, though
it wouldn't seem so long for those on board."
- Stephen Hawking, accepting the Royal Society's Copley Medal (2006)
Setting loose on the
battlefield weapons that are able to learn may be one of the biggest mistakes
mankind has ever made. It could also be one of the last.
- Richard Forsyth,
"Machine Learning for Expert Systems"
When a distinguished but
elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly
right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably
- Arthur C. Clarke's
Perhaps the adjective
'elderly' requires definition. In physics, mathematics, and astronautics
it means over thirty; in the other disciplines, senile decay is sometimes
postponed to the forties. There are, of course, glorious exceptions; but
as every researcher just out of college knows, scientists of over fifty
are good for nothing but board meetings, and should at all costs be kept
out of the laboratory!
- Clarke's note on
When, however, the lay
public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly
scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion : the distinguished
but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.
- Isaac Asimov, In
answer to Clarke's First Law
But the only way of discovering
the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the
- Clarke's Second
Any sufficiently advanced
technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Clarke's Third
"One of the most impressive
discoveries was the origin of the energy of the stars, that makes them
continue to burn. One of the men who discovered this was out with his girl
friend the night after he realized that nuclear reactions must be going
on in the stars in order to make them shine.
- Richard Feynman,
"The Feynman Lectures"
I wonder why. I wonder
why. I wonder why I wonder. I wonder why I wonder why I wonder.
- Richard Feynman
In 1911 the little town
of Nakhla in Egypt was the scene of one of the most remarkable events in
historym when a chunk of rock fell from the sky and killed a dog. This
is the only known canine fatality caused by a cosmic object. Improbably
though this encounter was already, its truly extraordinary nature was revealed
only decades later when scientists found that the culprit was not a common-or-garden
meteorite, but a piece of the planet Mars.
- Paul Davies, "The
Fifth Miracle - The Search for the Origin of Life"
But since time slows down
aboard the starship, according to Einstein's special theory of relativity,
the crew could reach the Pleiades star-cluster (M45), which is 400 light-years
away, in as little as eleven years, by the clocks aboard the starship.
After 25 shipboard years, such a ship could even reach the Great Andromeda
Galaxy - although over 2 million years would have passed on the earth.
She said "Look at
how pretty the stars shine!"
He said, "Yes, and
right now I am the only man in the world who knows why they shine."
She merely laughed
at him. She was not impressed with being out with the only man who, at
that moment, knew why stars shine. Well, it is sad to be alone, but that
is the way it is in this world."
Wormholes were first
introduced to the public over a century ago in a book written by an Oxford
mathematician. Perhaps realizing that adults might frown on the idea of
multiply connected spaces, he wrote the book under a psuedonym and wrote
it for children. His name was Charles Dodgson, his psedonym was Lewis Carroll,
and the book was Through The Looking Glass.
- Michio Kaku, "Visions
- How science will revolutionize the 21st century"
Why does anything exist?
How do I know it exists? What do I mean when I say "I?" It's convenient
to pin everything on God, but if there is a God, he provided us with brains
and curiosity and put us in what seems to be a physical universe, and so
we cannot be blamed for trying to figure things out. Newton seemed to have
it about right, but it's been downhill ever since. And with the introduction
of quantum physics, even unusually intelligent people like you and me have
to admit we are baffled.
"What the #$*! Do
We Know?" is a movie that attempts to explain quantum physics in terms
anyone can understand. It succeeds, up to a point. I understood every single
term. Only the explanation eluded me. The experts do not know the answers
to these questions, and admit it. They have quixotic little smiles as they
explain why it is that there are no answers. What makes them experts? I
guess it's because they have been able to formulate the questions, and
intuit the ways in which they are prevented from being answered. Gene Siskel
ended every interview by asking his subjects, "What do you know for sure?"
These people know for sure that they can't know for sure. At some point
in the movie I would have enjoyed, as a change of pace, a professor of
French who explains he cannot speak the language, that perhaps nobody can
and cautions us that France may not exist.
- from Roger Ebert's review of hoax film "What the #$*! Do We Know?", "Chicago
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