Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Kepler’s Ghostly Hand

Yesterday was interesting. I went to Best Buy in search of Brian Eno’s Apollo CD, not knowing A) it was 15 years old and B) that it wouldn’t be there. But I had read enough reviews at this point that I thought it belonged in my collection. As I searched, I did find Fresh Aire V – Voyage to the Moon by Manheim Steamroller for $11, and I’ve wanted that since college. I’d named one of my lunar projects from college Subvolva based on a note in this CD when my roommate purchased it. In the process of checking out the new age section, I also found Vangelis’ Mythodea, which is an homage to the Mars Odyssey mission from 2001 and Greek mythology in general. Apparently it was used for background music on a PBS special, but he music is so good it also came out as a concert DVD. I’d not heard the Vangelis one until now, and currently I’m on track 5 of 11 – it’s incredible.

While purchasing them I got a text message from my wife to pick her up. So in the car on the way home I’m explaining these purchases to my wife. “Fresh Aire V is based on Kepler’s Somnium, which was one of the earliest stories of space travel when written back in the 1600’s…” About this time I realize the tie-in to the Kepler Prize, which I don’t associate with Kepler so much as Zubrin, but now I guess I should. As my voice trailed off, my wife voiced the same thing, asking if I’d bought it for that reason. No, but I guess it is interesting that after looking for it on sale for 15 years, it would show up just now.

Mythodea is about Mars, but not Kepler, or so I thought. When opening the CD case there is a huge and seemingly meaningless quote from a scientific paper by Kepler on the elliptical orbit coordinates for Mars. It was so heavily footnoted it was very stupefying to read, yet here it was, taking up a whole page in the CD book for no apparent reason, rambling past footnotes that are no where to be found. In another burst of irony, I remembered Rev. James Heiser lecturing on Kepler at the Mars Society conference, and how the church has gotten a bum rap because Kepler was both fully accepted by the church and fully scientific in his conclusions. However, he made note that Kepler (or perhaps Newton, or both, memory fails me) had written books with all the illustrations footnoted in the back instead of in the text, because it was far easier to publish but far harder to read. So that explained all the footnotes, but what was it doing HERE? Before I answer, the bit about putting all the illustrations at the end is also a pain now for publishers, as that emphatic note by the publisher of our Mars papers proves out. They insisted we put all illustrations in the back of each paper and allow them to typeset them into place later. I suppose this makes some sense from an import prospective.

So why was it there? The last line mentioned musical resonances – the music of the spheres was thought to be actual music, with each planet’s orbit beating out a different rhythm and resonance. The ratios of orbital periods and rates corresponded to the relative string lengths or hole positions in musical instruments.

Track six now – beautiful opera – no lyric sheet or translations, with the CD or on the web. Painful. I’ll have to get the DVD just to see if it has subtitles.

So we arrive home, and the porch light is out, but I think I see a box. The globe had arrived! It’s beautiful – Daedalia Plania clearly labeled and covering a huge area. A book was also included, which I didn’t expect.

Earlier in the day I saw a news item from Europe’s Mars Express orbiter team that they had mapped where the methane and water vapor were coming from on the planet, and that it matched, implying that A) if it’s volcanic, then both water and methane are coming from the same outgassing events, so that makes sense as well as B) if it’s life, then life and water would be in the same place, so that also makes sense. Regardless, it was covering three large plains in the northern hemisphere (Daedalia is in the south, no overlap there). I noticed in the book that came with my globe that the crust of Mars is much thinner in the northern hemisphere, so that also makes sense.

In other words, the question is are there gasses that include methane boiling through the northern plains from the mantle through the soil, or are there nutrients identically boiling through the soil and feeding farting little Martian microbes in that very same area?

Ironically, there is a big chunk of the southern highlands that also lends itself to life, according to one of the lectures at the Mars Society. There are ancient magnetic fields still bound up in the rocks that could help protect exploring astronauts (not to mention give beautiful auroras every night) as well as any native life. Further, it corresponded with other deposits, though I forgot what they were. There is no overlap with this and the plains in the north, with a one pixel exception that has 75 percent of the maximum reading but is down in the lower region. I’ll eventually have to find out where that is for the novel if nothing else.

In the novel I’m toying with writing, Mars is secretly colonized in 1970 by a military operation using Orion spacecraft. Their bases are hidden, but tell-tale gasses are released, resulting in the current detections. Now I have a rough idea as to where to hide my characters.

I think I’m going to write Rev. Heiser and ask if I can get his papers from the conference in softcopy. I think somewhere in my Great Books collection I have a Kepler, but it would be nice to have historical context for it.

Dreams and Visions, Looking Up Versus Looking Down
I finished Zubrin’s novel First Landing Sunday. It was my first goal after the Mars Society conference. He has a devout Christian southerner and an elitist atheist on the crew fighting like cats and dogs through a lot of the text. I suspect he put them in not so much to express his own views as to provide ongoing conflict. The Christian is named Gwen. In the end, and at the beginning, she saves the day quite a bit. An almost grudging respect is given by Zubrin here, even while he blasts other Christians in other places.

One song from To Touch the Stars is called Queen Isabella, which starts out characterizing her as “more than a little deranged. A bigot, fanatic, and greedy for souls. To baptize the world was first of her goals. But she bet on a dreamer, that’s how the wheel rolls, and afterward all the world changed.” It then spends the rest of the song lamenting her passing, since no one else seems to bet on dreamers anymore.

Incidentally, did you notice the language used to describe Isabella? Does wanting to lead people to salvation really constitute all of that? Granted, this was 1492 in Europe, in a country that in the same year had FINALLY pushed the Muslims back out of Europe's western edge.

With his long historical interest, it appears Zubrin gets the fact that no major move in science has happened without Christian leaders authorizing the quest and Christian taxpayers footing the bill. It also appears no secular leader has dumped a lot of money into anything grand outside of the metropolitan areas; only the Christian has had the vision to appreciate sending humans to distant lands.

Let’s compare:

Teddy Kennedy – $14.6 billion – The Big Dig to mildly improve traffic in Boston at a cost of almost $2 BILLION per mile. Estimates suggest it will take 50 years to pay off the debt on the project. Incidentally, this was one of those bills that Clinton and Kennedy snuck through while congress was in recess – something Bush only did once with a few judicial appointees after conservatives begged him to for years. Clinton and Kennedy were so proud they called a press conference and signed it publicly. Incidentally, it was originally estimated to cost $2.6 billion for the whole thing. You’d think it would take some heat off NASA with their 100-400 percent markups.

George Bush - $5 billion - to return to the moon and Mars. This amount is to be added to NASA’s budget over a five year period, with the remaining balance taken from the shuttle and station programs afterwards when both are retired.

Note to Boston – if it’s too crowded, do what everyone else in the history of the world has ever done down to the smallest microbe with a flagella – if it’s too crowded, LEAVE.

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