Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Here's an interesting recent talk from Ted.com by the editor of The Long News, an organization that resembles Page F30 in quite a few ways. It's less than 4 minutes long so has already been translated into 10 other languages.
The Long News is about news that will (may) continue to matter in the future, much in the same way that Page F30 is named for the page on which the internet was first mentioned in the Washington Post in 1988, waaay back near the classifieds section and thus nearly completely out of view. An astute reader back then may have suspected that something big would eventually happen with this.
So back to the video: Kirk Citron's prediction is that the discovery of water on the Moon would turn out to be one of 2009's biggest stories is definitely one I agree with; in fact, I wrote a few dozen posts on that myself. Assuming it happens this year (it might not due to the Kepler team deciding to keep data private until February 2011) 2010's biggest story will be the first discovery of another Earth-like planet in the habitable zone of a (red dwarf) star. Due to a lack of precision though the first and subsequent discoveries will carry a lot of caveats, such as not being sure whether the planet would actually have Earth-like temperatures, precise composition of the atmosphere, and so on. So though it will effectively mean the end of our isolation in the universe, there may be a few more years before the extra earth-shattering news of something almost entirely certain (e.g. a planet with an atmosphere that could only be created by a large amount of life) plus the eventual direct imaging of one. Direct imaging of this type is certainly exciting enough:
But something along the lines of this:
is a different matter entirely.
So in a sense the discovery of extrasolar Earths will resemble the advent of the internet in how it will advance in stages. First it will be:
"Hey, did you all hear about the (internet/planet)? It's the big news!"
After that it then becomes:
"So I decided to try out that internet thing / buy a book or watch a long documentary on that/those extrasolar planet(s) that look like our own."
After that it will begin to become common knowledge - "Yeah, I use the internet pretty much every day now" "No, I think Pandora is much more likely to have life than Vulcan..." - "No way, Vulcan is much more likely because..."
And finally it becomes a necessity, or such a part of our life that it becomes completely normal, plus difficult or funny to remember life before (remember waiting days for letters to arrive?). For extrasolar planets this will probably require enough news daily on planets like our own that it becomes necessary to devote entire sections of newspapers/web sites to them. Not so far-fetched when you think about how entire sections are already devoted to horoscopes. By then we should already be a spacefaring civilization and much of the discussion would center around how to explore or best observe them.
Note that getting to that stage wouldn't make it boring, however. The internet has yet to become boring, movies certainly aren't, and neither are books. A new part of our lives can become completely familiar yet just as exciting as the day we first found out about it.