NASA’s recent Dart mission to deflect an asteroid’s path, serves to illustrate just how precarious Earth’s existence is. We are at the mercy of what the Universe throws at us. Our atmosphere and magnetic field serve us well in protecting us from cosmic rays, eruptions of particles and energy from the Sun, and the small meteors that continually bombard us. The presence of large planets like Jupiter and Saturn in our Solar System act as protective big brothers, sweeping up any wayward asteroids that happen to pass by on the way to Earth.
At the start of September in Aptos, California, an elderly man slipped peacefully away, almost unnoticed. Aged 92, Frank Drake was one of the founding fathers of SETI ( search for extraterrestrial intelligence). Through his life’s work, he pioneered a scientific approach to a topic that in the early years, was seen as fringe at best and downright crazy at worst.
Recent reports in the media about a new radio telescope in the grounds Birr Castle has firmly shone a spotlight on the astronomical heritage of Ireland. From 1845 until 1914 the largest telescope in the world stood in the grounds of Birr Castle. It was the brainchild of the 3rd Earl of Rosse and through it he made many wonderful discoveries, he named the Crab nebula and was the first to document the structure of spiral galaxies, although at the time, they didn’t truly understand their nature.
I was struck the other day by the number of tiny red “blood suckers” crawling around on my window sills and walls. It seems to me that I haven’t seen these tiny creatures in years, or maybe I just haven’t noticed them. Squishing them and the red streaks they leave are a distinct nostalgic memory from childhood summers along with Soda Stream, Wimbledon and rounders.
The hunt for other planets in the universe is going full steam ahead with thousands of planets having being found in orbit around distant suns. Telescopes and technology are progressing at a breakneck pace allowing us to probe the light from these distant worlds for traces of gases that might signify life. Probes in our own solar system are busy looking for the signs and signatures of life.