I have always loved National Geographic Magazine so very much. My parents subscribed to it when I was a kid, and when the new issue arrived each month, I would pour over every word and picture. (In the photograph, above, I am in my room as a child, holding an interesting issue). I loved the magazine so much that I would sneak into the library at my elementary school at recess, for they had a side sun room, attached to the library, surrounded by windows and full of nothing but old National Geographic magazines spanning the decades. I would sit on the floor there, quietly by myself, while the kids all played outside, and I'd read the articles in magazine upon magazine and also gaze upon all the wonders in the pictures, stopping only to gaze upon the dust floating about in that room that, in that light, looked like fireflies. National Geographic Magazine has always had a very special place in my heart, and brought such wonder to my early life...
So, when I was given a gift certificate a while back, to an on-line bookseller as a birthday gift from my sister-in-law, I selected several books that I just needed so badly to have, and then also got myself a subscription to National Geographic Magazine with the remainder of the gift. So now, every month, Mr. Livings and I get the new issue of the magazine in our mailbox. Each time it comes, to me, it always feels like Christmas. The July issue felt especially so. All issues of the magazine are interesting, but some issues are REALLY special. And the July issue was of space, and titled, "Is Anybody Out There? Life Beyond Earth." I was so excited when I saw it:
...And I immediately got reading. I read about the current work that astrobiologists are doing, and also about Frank Drake, the American astronomer and physicist who founded SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) in the 1960's...and who also helped found the field of astrobiology through his work searching for radio transmissions from alien civilizations. Drake is now eighty-four-years old and the National Geographic article included a picture of him, pictured below:
I found it interesting to read about Drake's equation, by which he sought to try to figure out how many alien civilizations might reasonably be out there. This, below, is what the equation looks like:
N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which radio-communication might be possible
R* = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy
fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space
Everything about this article I found just fascinating. How wondrous it all be to think about...
Just as I am so very excited each month to get my National Geographic issue, I was equally excited when I came across, at a thrift store a while back, the book, Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. It was, and is, just amazing to be able to hold images of the cosmos in my own hands and to be able to gaze at them so closely in these photos. I also loved, and love, the words of Carl Sagan:
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
And one of my absolute favorite quotes of his, that I shared once before, is this:
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena…Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.
[It is]…our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”
- Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan also wrote the book, Contact , which brought to life, through fiction, the work that SETI (which Frank Drake, pictured above in the magazine article, had founded) was doing, in searching for radio transmissions from alien civilizations. A wonderful movie was made of the book in the late 1990's too. I was a teenager at the time, and went to see, Contact, twice in the movie theater, I loved it so much...
I saw the film both times at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, my favorite cinema in the world. The second time I saw the film, after it was over, I walked out of the theater, and it was dark outside and the sky was clear and full of stars...and I felt so close to it all...to the interwovenness and wonder of all things...
I loved that movie so much, and have seen it so many times over the years. But seeing it in the theater - oh my goodness, was that wonderful! That intro scene, for instance, in the film, where it starts above the Earth and goes further and further out, and you hear the radio transmissions from Earth and spoken words through time...further and further out...until it is just silence. I would have gone back again and again to the theater just for that scene, if I could have...It was incredible...Look:
As were incredible so many scenes in the movie...I loved the scene where Ellie, the main character in the film, played by Jodie Foster, was talking, and said..."You know, there are 400 billion stars out there - just in our galaxy alone. If only one out of a million of those had planets, and if just one out of a million of those had life - and if just one out of a million of those had intelligent life...there would be literally millions of intelligence civilizations out there."
To which the character, played by Matthew McConaughey, responded, "Well, if there wasn't - it would be an awful waste of space."
There were so many other wonderful moments and scenes in the movie too. Her listening. Her going up, near the end of the film, on a journey to beyond...which, through her, we, the audience, got to go on too... Amazing:
And how incredible it was get to feel the feel of the experience of traveling through a worm hole through space, as pictured above. And how lovely it was to get to see her gazing upon the heavens of beyond, her eyes astonished, her jaw dropped open in awe...As she gazed upon it all...So beautiful. So beautiful, she said tearfully. I had no idea...
I loved, and love, all of these things so much...that July issue of National Geographic, the book, Cosmos, by Carl Sagan, the film, Contact, that took me along for a journey to the vastness...Simply incredible!
The worlds of the world truly take my breath away...
So much I do not know…I cannot know…But live the mystery…