The Glory of Ignorance

The Glory of Ignorance

This is a guest post by KS Augustin, a writer of SF, fantasy, romance and their permutations, and owner of micro-press Sandal Press. She’d be chuffed if you subscribe to her newsletter. She is also Chief Editor of the free, online magazine, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly.

Anyone who has a fleeting fascination for space has come across Drake’s equation. Dr. Frank Drake formulated it in 1961 as a starting point to discuss the number of civilisations residing within our galaxy, and it goes something like this:

drake-equation

 

I’m going to concentrate on what can be considered the harbinger for the rest of that provocative equation, and the variable on which this little post is based: ne, which stands for the number of planets that can potentially support life within a solar system. And, if we’re talking life as we know it, that means water.

You see, back when I was a young and avid SF reader (also consuming every piece of astrtonomy news that I could find) there were a lot of discussions around the prevalence of water in the galaxy, and very learned people were telling me that the answer to that question was Not Much At All. In fact, I used to sometimes read, there was so little water in the galaxy that we might have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that any other civilisation that did exist would be too far away for us to communicate with. No pen-pals from 107 Piscium, then.

But over the past ten years, something wonderful has happened. We’re finding the stuff—liquid and frozen—all over the damned place! I was watching a serious of lectures from The Great Courses (that godsend for all homeschooling mothers), and the geologist told me that, of course, there’s water on Mars [1]. The only problem, he says, is that soil is covering the frozen reservoirs, so the planet looks drier than it actually is. Then there’s Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, with its thin, then thick, and now thin again, ice crust, covering a moon-wide ocean of liquid water [2]. Not to be outdone, Saturn’s satellite, Enceladus, is in a similar position with icy plumes geysering from a warm ocean [3].

Did you know there’s water vapour on Mercury? Yes, that dinky little planet that should be scoured clean of, well, everything because it’s so close to the Sun, is actually a sneaky collector of water molecules when no-one’s looking [4]. And there’s frozen water even on the Moon, although we’ve known that fact for a little longer [5].

I’ll quit belabouring the point. What I’m essentially trying to say is that we now know, without taking one Voyager step out of our solar system, that there’s water everywhere. We didn’t think so twenty years ago. We know so now.

This makes me, an SF writer, a very happy camper. What else have we got wrong? Our SETI philosophy? Boson spins? The physics of quasars? Even maybe (*gasp*) the Big Bang theory? What if the speed of light isn’t inviolate, as physicists are now provocatively discovering [6] (also reported by New Scientist magazine in various articles over the years)?

Don’t think, “oh dear, look how much time we’ve wasted;” think, “wow, there’s still so much more to discover!” And ponder this, dear reader. If so much perceived wisdom has been overturned in the last two decades, what are we going to discover in the next two?

[1] http://www.space.com/17048-water-on-mars.html

[2] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131212-water-plumes-europa-space-science-jupiter/

[3] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2011EO120005/epdf

[4] http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/messenger/media/PressConf20121129.html

[5] http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/ice/ice_moon.html

[6] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/particles-found-to-travel/

Author

KS Augustin
KS Augustin is a writer of SF, fantasy, romance and their permutations, and owner of micro-press, Sandal Press. She'd be chuffed if you subscribe to her newsletter. She is also Chief Editor of the free, online magazine, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly.

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