Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Moon Madness ... Is there anybody out there?

Once again, Noble Readers, I bring you strange thoughts from afar. This time, it's a "proof" I dreamed up a long time ago, when I was studying astronomy. I was an avid reader of science fiction back then, and still think fondly of the genre. Anyhow, it concerns aliens. Aliens, that is, of the extra-terrestrial sort.

When I say "proof" I don't mean anything quite so hard and fast, but let me run this idea past you. Our solar system contains a major coincidence. Amazingly, of all the moons and all the planets orbiting our sun, only our moon looks as big as the sun when viewed from the surface of a planet. This is because our moon is a quarter of a million miles away, and the vastly bigger sun is 93 million miles away. It is an absolute coincidence that the disc of the moon just covers the disc of the sun, and so it makes periodic total eclipses possible.
With me so far? Good.

Actually this fit is not exact, because neither the earth nor the moon moves in a circle, so there is some small variation in apparent size of both sun and moon, and so sometimes we get a so-called "annular eclipse", when a thin ring of sun shows around the black disc of the moon. Still, all things considered, it is amazingly unlikely that we get total solar eclipses at all. And if other solar systems are, as they seem to be, built on similar lines to our own, then the total solar eclipse will be a very rare phenomenon indeed, not only here, but elsewhere in the universe too.

Having said that, experiencing a total solar eclipse is one of the most impressive things a human being can do, and it's no surprise that people spend thousands on travelling to what's called the "track of totality" just to be there when the phenomenon passes over. I did the very same some years ago, going all the way to Antigua for the purpose, and a couple of years later to Laon in Northern France.

My point is this: if scientifically advanced aliens exist out there, aliens with say a million years of scientific advancement under their belts rather than our own paltry four hundred years, then surely they would be coming here to see the eclipses.
But we don't see them. Ergo: scientifically advanced aliens probably don't exist.

Of course, they might not think eclipses are as much fun as I do, or, for all their advances, they might not have spotted that we have eclipses, or -- and get this -- they might be here amongst us, disguised as people, and watching it all happen through those cardboard eclipse viewers like the rest of us. Maybe, just maybe, the track of totality is the best place to go alien hunting after all.

This is Shirley Heights, Antigua - and this is where I experienced the eclipse in 1998.  Worth it!

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