British cosmologist and astrophysicist Martin Rees sees space as the realm of robotic exploration, not human colonisation. A handful of privately funded thrill seeking adventurers will probably settle on Mars but the idea of mass emigration there, proposed by some as the solution to Earth’s problems, he views as a dangerous delusion.
The Q&A session was particularly lively.
Martin speculated the universe might be beyond the capacity of the human brain, as Euclid is beyond an ape’s.
Life might be unique to Earth or if there are other spacefarers, then as Seth Shostak suggested in his December 2020 lecture, we are more likely to encounter other civilizations’ machines than their biological forbears ─ Martin derives comfort from this as the machines, he thinks, would be more benign than biological entities. (One questioner raised the danger of robots having aggression programmed into them.)
Whilst we may be constrained by the laws of physics to remain within the galaxy, our electronic descendants could live millions of years, Martin thought.
Cork Astronomy Club was immensely honoured that Martin Rees agreed to give our January lockdown lecture. He is currently writing a book on “When we don’t need astronauts”, and looks forward to the day, perhaps 10 years from now, when the European Southern Observatory’s ELT telescope will get spectra of some exoplanets that would indicate the presence of a biosphere (chlorophyll, oxygen, etc).
Launched in 1977 the twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. Each is three times farther away from the Earth and Sun than Pluto is, and travelling at 10 miles a second. In 2012, Voyager 1 made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between stars. Incredibly, these spacecraft are still communicating with NASA and sending usable data.
A TV programme that featured Voyager 2’s flyby of Neptune when she was a child, inspired Emma Bunce to study the solar system and she has followed the progress of these spacecraft ever since. She will outline what they have told us about the universe, and how, equipped with 1970’s technology, they have accomplished this.
Prof Bunce is current President of the Royal Astronomical Society, and head of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester.
This lecture will be held via Zoom, and is open to all. There will also be a sky report on what’s worth viewing in the sky during the coming month, plus club announcements.
The Zoom link will be posted here nearer the date. Start time 8 pm, and we aim to finish at 9.15. There will be an opportunity to stay and chat for a few minutes after the end of the formal meeting if you want to.
Not familiar with Zoom? If you contact us in good time, we may be able to help. Email us or ring Peter on 089-2004553