Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Assault of Thoughts - Lovecraft would love this stuff edition - 12/21/2010

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" - JMK

- A group of astronomers announce the prospect that Pluto may have an ocean beneath its surface. Of course Lovecraft alluded to the presence of liquids on Pluto too. In The Whisperer in Darkness he wrote "The black rivers of pitch that flow under those mysterious cyclopean bridges—things built by some elder race extinct and forgotten before the beings came to Yuggoth [Pluto] from the ultimate voids—ought to be enough to make any man a Dante or Poe if he can keep sane long enough to tell what he has seen." Granted Lovecraft is refering to liquid on the surface, which is a different matter entirely. Nevertheless, Alan Stern at the Southwest Research Institute is hoping that a NASA flyby scheduled for 2015 (launched back in 2005) might show evidence of geysers and volcanic activity.

- This is an incredible illustration of how big the universe is (HT Don Boudreaux), that would thoroughly impress so great an expounder of cosmic insignificance as Lovecraft. A couple things are striking to me. First, if you scroll out to where a lot of the inner planets are, you see that Pluto is about as wide as the United States. That's kind of interesting to think about for anyone that's ever been on a substantial road trip. It's still a hike, clearly, but if you theoretically had the oxygen, atmospheric pressure, and gravitational pull that means it's not outlandish to think about circumnavigating a (former) planet in a car. Weird thought, huh? Its also striking to compare the size of Mars to the United States. OK, now scroll out a little more to where they show the scale of a light year, and the distance to the nearest star (which is 4.3 light years away). That's the single nearest star - the closest family of worlds that we aren't immediately familiar with by looking up at the planets we can see with the naked eye in the night sky. That closest family of alien worlds would take thousands upon thousands of years to travel to with current technology, to say nothing of surviving the trip. If we can't cut that travel time there's obviously a very high likelihood we'd end up dying in the black emptiness of space. It just drives home the fact that our ability to experience alien worlds is contingent on either (1.) them coming here because they have more advanced technology than we do, (2.) them already being here in the solar system - which human beings could certainly travel to the edge of in my lifetime, or (3.) humans making a technological breakthrough that allows us to travel that far in that amount of time - wormholes or something like that. I think the best chance in my lifetime is #2. Again - in my lifetime the second best chance is #1, but I'm ultimately a do-it-yourselfer, so I'd prefer #3 if at all possible. I'm not so sure its in the cards - but then again, scientific breakthroughs are highly unpredictable. Finally - scroll out one more time to the very end. Maybe readers already realize this, but this has always boggled my mind: first, that there is an edge to the universe. I can't even really understand what that means for there to be an edge of the universe. But second - that that edge is so far away that we can't see it. Not because our eyes have given out or because our telescopes aren't strong enough, but because the universe has not existed long enough for light to travel across its full expanse. How incredible is that?

- And finally, how to summon a Shoggoth:

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