In the second half of the fourteenth chapter of The Science of Discworld, our solar system is gonna change a lot, and I won’t be around to see most of it. THAT’S SO COOL. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
My seventh grade science teacher had an orrery, and goddamn, it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. She kept it in a cupboard because people kept playing with it. For good reason! It was one of those ones that was actually powered by electricity, and it would kick into motion with the flip of a switch. She brought it out for a few lessons, and I actually entertained stealing it once. (Are any of you surprised that I love heists as much as I do? I LOVE HEISTS.) It was such an incredible gadget! And now I know that it wasn’t accurate. It certainly wasn’t to scale; the orbits of the nine planets in the orrery were all an even distance from one another, and they all moved at relatively the same speed. Plus, they didn’t orbit in a general plane outwards from the sun. I ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT WAS FAKE, FOR THE RECORD. I assumed that the planets revolved around the sun in widely different orbits, but I am learning SO MUCH from this book.
And that information continues to change. I love that I can read something stated as a fact within The Science of Discworld, but then Google it and learn just how our understanding of the universe has changed. That doesn’t mean the book is flawed, except in the most literal interpretation of the word. It’s just that at the time that this came out, that was what we knew. There were only 70 extrasolar planets detected then. Now? As of September 8, 2017, humans have detected 3,667 extrasolar planets. OVER THIRTY-SIX HUNDRED OF THEM. I didn’t expect the number to be so large, y’all, and you know what else is exciting? Come back to this post in a year. It’ll be even bigger, I guarantee that.
That excites me! The very idea that the future is chaotic, that we can only “predict” the behavior of any number of systems to a certain point, makes me really happy. What else are we going to learn about wobbly planets? Will we one day construct a mirror large enough to see these planets that are so very far away? Will we find out that pulsars aren’t what we thought they were? There might come a day when interferometry will be outdated. When this book was publish, Space Technology 3 was still a possibility. (It got cancelled.) We did launch a few other projects the writers didn’t account for. Unfortunately, the Terrestrial Planet Finder never became a reality. (WHY DO WE KEEP NOT GIVING NASA FUNDING FOR THESE PROJECTS.) (Just kidding, I know why.)
That does worry me, and it’s hard not to become concerned for the future of humanity when we stop valuing these kind of pursuits. I want to know if there was ever life on Europa or if it exists currently. Of all the things my tax dollars go to, I’m perfectly fine with it going toward the pursuit of more knowledge, toward a deeper understanding of the universe I live in. I don’t feel like we’re investing in that as much as we could, you know? MORE FUNDING FOR THE SCIENCES, MY FRIENDS.
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