Sunday, October 10, 2010

Alien's View of the Solar System

This simulation of the Kuiper Belt from Goddard Space Flight Center shows what alien astronomers might see if they were looking for planets around our sun. You never seem to see the Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud in Hollywood movies. Thinking about them always reminds me of that unusual passage in Arthur C. Clarke's Imperial Earth (1975) where an astronomer who has been receiving strange signals from outer space engages in some speculation that could have come from H.P. Lovecraft.

"My calculations all point to a source--or sources--at about a tenth of a light-year from the Sun. Only a fortieth of the way to Alpha Centauri, but two hundred times the distance of Pluto...No man's land--the edge of the wilderness between the stars. But that's exactly where the comets are born, in a great, invisible shell surrounding the Solar System. There's enough material out there for a trillion of those strange objects, orbiting in a cosmic freezer.
"What's going on, in those huge clouds of hydrogen and helium and all the other elements? There's not much energy--but there may be enough. And where there's matter and energy--and Time--sooner or later there's organization.
"Call them Star Beasts. Would they be alive? No--that word doesn't apply. Let's just say--'Organized systems.' They'd be hundreds or thousands of kilometers across, and they might live--I mean, maintain their individual identity--for millions of years.
"That's a thought. The comets that we observe are they the corpses of Star Beasts, sent sunward for cremation? Or executed criminals? I'm being ridiculously anthropomorphic--but what else can I be?
"And are they intelligent? What does that word mean? Are ants intelligent--are the cells of the human body intelligent? Do all the Star Beasts surrounding the Solar System make a single entity--and does It know about us? Or does It care?
"Perhaps the Sun keeps them at bay, as in ancient times the campfire kept off the wolves and saber-toothed tigers. But we are already a long way from the Sun, and sooner or later we will meet them. The More we learn, the better.
"And there's one question I'm almost afraid to think about. Are they gods? OR ARE THEY EATERS OF GODS?"

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