Archive for the ‘cosmic ecology’ category

THE VITAL TRANSITION: To Explore or Not To Explore

April 12, 2011

To Explore or Not To Explore, that is the question? Whether it is wiser to fall back under the darkness of fear and suspicion, or to rise up with courage and commitment to carry humankind forward and across the Cosmos? For humankind to continue to evolve we must make the transition from the darkness into the bright and glorious light of discovery. (Apologies to William Shakespeare for using a portion of his “Hamlet“)

Look how far humankind has come. It has not been easy, and it still is not easy, but fortunately there are those among us who persist and thus succeed in carrying all of us safely into the future. As expressed in an earlier blog article, Exploration;An Essential of Life, humankind is here today because of  a basic biological drive of all life to reach out and explore its surroundings. Most probably that is exactly what brought humans up from the sea to where we are today. Most importantly we are not finished!

We are surrounded by life, by energy, by natural phenomena that challenge and enrapture us. We cannot ignore their existence because we are part of it all and are driven to explore and understand. If or when we were to turn away, we turn away from ourselves.

That vital transition then is to accept the reality that we are all connected in many different ways including the entire Cosmos. This realization should be both assuring and exhilarating. Everything we do, everything that surrounds us, everything that happens in and around us is all interrelated. Sure, there are some scary parts, some mysterious parts, but there are also a multitude of inspiring and engaging parts. Summed together they represent our place in the Cosmos. To fully appreciate that relationship we must explore all that surrounds us. In exploring, we then discover and in discovering we then are compelled to explain. As we explain we add to or create science, and science is the foundation of our understanding of who we are and why we are here.

Fear disappears and suspicion and superstition are banished by reason and fact. A sense of insignificance is replaced by an awareness of our cosmic citizenship, and our important roles as explorers and explainers. We are essential, but incomplete without our acceptance of our unity with all that is the Cosmos. When that realization happens we are uplifted in joy and fulfillment. We are Cosmos.

The following video gives you an opportunity to enjoy a moment within a part of all that surrounds us.

 

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Publication Code: P6RRM3F9TBWP

CREDIT:

Image of Astronaut Bruce McCandless II who performed the first untethered space walk. Courtesy of NASA.

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BONDING WITH “WHY”: The Citizen-Scientist

November 12, 2010

“We are unlikely to survive if we do not make full and creative use of our human intelligence” The preceding and prophetic observation was made by astrophysicist Carl Sagan in his book,The Dragons of Eden. We quote it here to emphasize the increasing need for the citizen-scientist as an evolutionary energizer.

It is usually a very rapid event after a young child begins to talk that he or she will, one day, use the why word. This is the vital and first step of both an inquisitive mind and a potential, future citizen-scientist. Oh yes, some of those children will go one to become professional scientists, but many, many others will follow different life patterns; however, in each case that inquisitiveness exists and if properly cultivated lives on as an agile mind.

Oh dear, this is one of those techy talks that expect the reader to run and gather up scientific paraphernalia in preparation for some unique little experiment, right? Actually no, although some of those programs or exercises can be both interesting and instructive. We are writing this blog to acknowledge the value of appreciating those who chase why and the benefits it can bring to all of us.

The basic, all-purpose citizen-scientist: Becoming a citizen-scientist is a nurturing process that, as we have indicated above, begins in childhood. That natural curiosity is encouraged by parents and later by teachers to the point where the youngster feels very comfortable asking why and following its implications. As we also stated, some of these youth will go on to become scientists or teachers of science. We, however, want to consider those followers of science not as an intellectual pursuits, but as ongoing delights in their exposure to the revelations and issues that come from answers to why. Just like the child that gets responsive explanations or demonstrations from a supportive respondent, the basic citizen-scientist looks for and responds to the products of scientific exploration.

The amateur anthropologist, archaeologist, astronomer, biologist (ecologist), botanist (horticulturist) and so on are specific and highly defined examples of the citizen-scientists that go beyond the basic stage. We are talking about the individual or even family that takes a very broad interest in science in different ways. They can be described as generally responsive to all scientific revelations and are usually eager to share this information with others. Their excitement comes from both reports of the exploration process and generalized reports of results. They identify with the explorers and often regard them as heroes. On the other hand, they can often become disappointed, even losing interest, when there is a stifling of the flow of science progress’ exciting exploration stories. We write more on this issue, below.

Simple joys from personal discoveries: The broad, general, scientific interests we are discussing here often encourages its followers to explore on their own. This can produce stunning and memorable moments and rewards. The image included in our blog header for this issue is an example.

Walking along a narrow trail in a deep, shadowy forest the citizen-explorer follows a trail that leads to a sunlit patch of wildflowers. There, in bright humility, a jewel of nature shares its breathtaking beauty. It is an awesome moment that is never forgotten. Most importantly,  the encounter exposes the citizen-scientist to the same kind of exultant reactions that the professional scientist often experiences. This is when his or her research yields breakthrough results. Both are “eureka” moments.

The scientists share their discoveries in very formal and careful ways with colleagues and the science community. The citizen-scientists with a generalized interest tend to share their discoveries or new information with friends and family and usually with a handful of fellow citizen-scientists. The more specialized citizen-scientists listed above tend to officially present their findings within an organized group. A group that can be global in size and reach. Regardless, the products of chasing why are shared and invigorated by this extended, public interest.

The art of sharing: So why is there not more of those exciting citizen-scientist discovery exchanges, and why are there not more generalized citizen-scientists? Now, we are considering two interactive why’s. A common factor is the need for broadly effective and interesting information exchanges. In some cases the exchange is too tightly wrapped in the learned vocabularies of the special interest citizen-scientists. These tend to either overwhelm or even coldly exclude the general interest citizen-scientist. This can be quite off-putting.

In the public venue, the media (print, radio and television) have produced some totally astounding science programs that capture both the generalist and specialist citizen-scientists. The problem is, these highlights are random and vary in the quality of their content and accuracy. This problem is confounded by some presentations that are more editorial than informational. The results in these latter instances distract the audience with sociopolitical issues forcing their followers to lose their link to the basic scientific content. Informational and inspirational outcome is shut down! This can cause more than an incidental reaction it can, sometimes, push a fledgling citizen-scientist away.

For many of us, finding answers to why has taken on spiritual connotations that offer soothing but also often inexplicable answers. At the same time, either through a fear of science with its direct statements asserting it does have an answer or our needs for reassurances about life on Earth, we turn to the orderly structure of a religion. This should not prevent our desires to follow the why’s in life while also getting many answers from the sciences. The net personal effect is peace of mind and personal fulfillment as we understand more about all that surrounds us. We also come to find that although we are not eternal as humans, we are forever eternal as a glorious composite of energy that goes on, and on long after our human shell has expired. We are, and always will be one with the universe.

Let science abound: The more involved with science, to any degree, that we become the greater evolutionary strength and progress we make as humankind. As this happens, and as Carl Sagan has advised, our awareness of a host of issues that threaten that progress inspires us to unify and speak-out.

Oh no, you mean we have to become political activists? I don’t like that at all. No, activism in that respect can be expressed in one simple act – voting. The political system looks to dominant influences (dollars, political theories, and even public interests). A unified electorate that have a large population of citizen-scientists can gain important influence that serves to both save our home planet, and assure that humankind will continue to evolve. In short, we become more comfortable with our neighborhood; the Universe.

We are so busy. Family life is scattered and demanding. How can we do this too? It seems just too difficult. Yes, it can, but within a family, an ideal starting place is with your children. The younger they are the better, but age should not be a barrier. Let science come to dinner, let it also join the soccer, or baseball or football team your child is involved with. As you, the parent, look for general science links to share, you are on your way to becoming a citizen-scientist too.

Science is not drudgery. Visit a science museum, a planetarium, an aquarium, or even watch good (not wacky) scifi TV or movies that don’t necessarily educate, but do stimulate questions. In this latter case, your responsibility is to have or know where to find the correct answers.  Guess what? Your family is becoming a citizen-science enclave.  See over there, Einstein is doing a happy dance.

Well, that is interesting and I agree possible. My problem is our kids come home telling us their teachers got angry with them when they tried to use their new science awareness to correct the teacher. Yes, that will be a challenge, until you as citizen-scientist, parents take positive action to improve education in our schools.  No, don’t cry about not having enough time. If your child is gravely ill you rush to the doctors or hospital. Likewise, when your child is suffering from cognitive starvation you must rush to your school systems and get them fixed.

Science seems so remote and distant from our daily lives. We suggest that is wrong, and urge you to think about it obviousness and simplicity as did Galileo when he wrote:

” The Sun, with all the planets revolving around it, and depending on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as though it had nothing else in the Universe to do.” – Galileo Galilei

Get started today on your journey to becoming a citizen-scientist. When you hear or read the word why, follow through and seek the answer or if not that seek those who seek the answer and follow them.

On that wonderful, day-off,  fishing trip, while you wait for that exhilarating moment when a fish takes the bait, let your eyes follow the flight of a bird. There before you is nature’s mastery of what we still struggle to perfect.

Be amazed; seek answers; share answers, and welcome science into your mind and heart.

CREDITS:

Cartoon Image of Child with Questions: Courtesy of Parents in Education: Link>>http://www.pieinc.org/QandA.html

Wildflower image in header. From photography collection of Waddell Robey (c) 2007

WHISPERS FROM A DEAD PLANET: Planetary Revelations

November 8, 2010

A Modern Planetary Explorer

Nope, this is not a mockery of our strong desire to explore the planet Mars. As we all know, we are already doing that. We just want to do it more intensely and more personally. This is good! What we mean to present here is the how, when and where we do it. We also believe that our Mars, is not unique, but is representative of many planets in many other solar systems across this galaxy and beyond; thus our use of the Dead Planet label.

Dead Planet in this presentation refers to Earth-like planets that most probably supported some level of life before a variety of cataclysmic events halted the evolutionary process and essentially sterilized the planet into mysterious dormancy. Our closest candidate for this research is Mars. We need to know the details of why and how this happened. We need to know this for our own sake, and also to understand what we term here as cosmic ecology.

We also acknowledge the serious and dedicated scientists who may be appalled at our generalized approach to scientific exploration. We are not ignoring you or your efforts or discoveries. In fact we hope we stimulate the non-scientists to appreciate the challenges and importance of your research efforts. Please know how utterly lost we all would be without your enduring quests.

Exo-paleobiology: Now here’s a mix. Exo, meaning outside our solar system, paleo as in prehistoric and biology as in the study (ology) of all life (bio). So, stirring them together we get the scientific study of earliest life on planets outside our solar system. It is our opinion that the eventual work we will undertake on Mars will be the training and proving ground for future exo-paleobiological research. In the meantime, the critical paleobiological investigations going on here on this planet are equally vital as we continue to seek a full understanding of how life began here, and most likely on other planets (and moons) in this and other solar systems.

Astrobiology: This is another division of the broad science of biology and it goes hand in hand with our coined “exo-paleobiology”, and with the paleobiological research conducted here on Earth.  Here is an example of our own NASA’s research in astrobiology. Additionally, in her engaging book, “Is There Life Out There?”, astrophysicist Dr. Sara Seager prophisizes:

“Someday, sooner or later, we will know of bright stars that host living planets very much like Earth. We will be able to stand beneath a dark sky and point out to our friends or family, ‘That star has a planet like Earth'”

All of the above are examples of our ongoing research here in our own solar system and especially on our Moon and on Mars that will move us forward in our knowledge about life in the universe. It is time to consider some messages from that research, but before we go there; a poetic interlude.

The Poetry of Science: Yeah, we know some of this may tend to put you to sleep, but to help you understand both the power and the deep commitment of scientists and their scientific search for life beyond Earth, take a break and view this.

Whispers: Now our Moon is not by official definition a planet, but it is a planetary body that many consider to be part of a double planet grouping of our Earth and our Moon. This is because our Moon is 1.5 times the size of the now defined minor planet Pluto. Thus, the research we have done and will be doing on our Moon is a vital prelude to what we will also do on Mars, and eventually on other members of our solar system. We are already getting important messages from our research on both the Moon and Mars (there have been, to date, a total of 39 missions to Mars and a total of 26 missions to the Moon). We will soon be getting more that includes more detailed and vital information. Whispers will increase in both volume and content rising to the level of shouts as we make new discoveries on both the Moon and Mars.

Perhaps, next to proof of life, the loudest whisper hoped for from both the Moon and Mars is clear evidence of the presence of water. Water is the fundamental medium for both the emergence and support of life in some form. Recent whispers from the LCROSS/LRO team have clearly reported water on our Moon. Ongoing and intense visual and geological whispers from both Martian rovers, Spirit and Odyssey, give strong hints that there may be water on Mars. What is needed by the scientists now are shouts of proof of water on Mars and thus the hope that there may also be life there. If not life, then hopefully Mars will yield evidence of past life that, as we stated above, is vital to our understanding of life in the universe.

With abiding Curiosity: we will be exploring Mars, more deeply as well as atmospherically. The next Mars planetary rover will be Curiosity that is planned for a 2011 launch. Another very important assessment that will be performed by Curiosity is the detection of cosmic radiation that assaults Mars. This is important from the standpoint of future human missions to the planet where special shielding may be required. Above all else, Curiosity is expected to expand on the presence of conditions that support life or may have supported life on Mars in the past. The results of all information that will come from Curiosity along with all the data we have already gathered will clearly determine what our next exploratory step will be on that planet. It could be a robonaut.

Lunar Robonaut: Very shortly, now, a robonaut will be launched into

The Soon To Be Newest Planetary Explorer

low Earth orbit (LEO) and join the crew of the International Space Station (ISS). Move over HAL, real science in coming. Known as Robonaut2 this humanoid style robot will be assisting the ISS team in their research duties. This is the beginning of an entirely new approach to space exploration and will enable us to venture in to regions that may be best investigated robotically before sending in humans.

NASA has recently announced its intention to send a robonaut to the Moon as the next step in our exploration of that planetary body. There are little details as yet, but it is an exciting eventuality that holds promise of taking the next giant step of humankind into space. This mission may also be a preparatory mission leading to the placing of robonauts on Mars.

How Dead is Dead? No, this is neither a physiological nor theological question. It concerns itself with the various conditions in which life, in some form, may exist or have existed on a Earth-like planet. That planet could be Mars, or it could and most likely will be Earth-like planets in distant solar systems in our galaxy and beyond. The question is also intended to consider the potential for a so-called dead planet to resurrect itself or be resurrected through what we define as terraforming. Terraforming is a human endeavor, and we are essentially interested in conditions where a presumed dead planet is bombarded, again, by cometary and/or asteroid bodies. This could inject those ingredients that can lead to the generation of life or actually in this case the regeneration of life. Could this be happening now somewhere in the universe?  We think so. That entire idea is so very exciting. Life never gives up. If you have doubts, go back and review our little excerpt from the poetry of science.

In closing, we emphasize, as we have before, that our most important and ongoing preparation for our exploration of our solar system and beyond is our responsibility to protect and sustain life on planet Earth. Talks and theories about abandoning Earth for new galactic settlements is interesting, but also a potential weakening of our resolve to preserve our home base. For now and centuries into the future, sweet planet Earth is our vital resource that enables our exploratory vigor. Yes, explore we must, but in doing so we must never forsake our beginnings. Long Live Earth!

CREDITS:

Image of Mars exploration rover. Courtesy of NASA and the NOVA special, “Mars, Dead or Alive?” http://on.today.com/dlRBEo

Glorious image of the full Earth, courtesy of NASA.