Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Book: Ther Planets

(2005) Dava Sobel

As I absorb more and more literature and documentary film concerning the spaces beyond Earth (my infatuation with such is apparently boundless) I learn new facts or am reminded of forgotten ones less and less often.

The slide ended here. Many interesting new perspectives on our lonely little star system emerged from this excellent work and Dava’s refreshing non-partisanship has much to do with it.

The disdain that the poetic voices and scientific voices that I most revere tend to hold for one another are a great lament for me – tragic given the elements of both their works most laudable and profound seem plainly compatible, as both concern the courageous and diligent study of real observation in pursuit of truth. Dava here embraces the science as well as the more poetic offerings from religion, mythology and even astrology without detectable prejudice. I can’t overstate how joyously I celebrate this.

While such work may serve to draw poets and astronomers closer together, the wider
relevance is the delightful experience she delivers to the amateur poet and scientist in all of us. While also drawing in significant artistic and historical vignettes, she honors the perspective of the lay-person, painting the kind of compelling imagery that can turn the mildly curious into rookie astronomers.

Looking beyond the figures concerning Venus for instance - the temperature ranges of its layers, the component ratios of its tumultuous atmosphere, the geometry of its orbit and rotation – she constructs a vision one would be presented at the dusk of a long long Venusian day with the dim masked light of the never-seen sun giving way to a sky glowing red, reflecting a landscape of hot embers, given, of course, one could somehow survive the immense heat and atmospheric pressure that destroyed all ten Russian Vega and Venera craft, each within minutes of landing there.

And speaking of those voyages, somewhat useful in their very brief information gathering, by the way, it brings to mind my long wondering why Mars, not Venus has so fully captured our attention in the realm of pop culture while it is Venus that has so much more in common with the one planet decisively conducive to the support of life. Venus and Earth are at their essence, practically twins with Venus, at its ultimate greenhouse evolution, bearing an Earthly past, once encased in seas while Earth now evolves toward a Venus-like state, its own nascent greenhouse effect threatening the permanence of its own seas.

So here’s my question. Is it tribalism? NASA set their sites on Mars, The Russian Space Agency on Venus. So to what degree is our Mars infatuation just another manifestation of political delusion and the mighty tongues of statesmen crushing free thought in all but the most robust minds of their constituents – democratic and communist alike? I’d like to hear from a Russian on this matter. Is it Venus that compels there instead?

[Editor’s note: Any further political ranting will be deleted from this piece. Knock it off, Fwig.]

And on the subject of Earth, this book agitates another of my quandaries. The name Earth. How tragically inappropriate this name it was given under folly that it should centre the universe. Given the mythological conventions governing the naming of all the other planets, what, were it somehow possible to disassociate it from its homely connotations, would we have named this brilliant blue orb instead? I suspect this could be logically predicted and I look forward to taking a stab at it! Any other takers?



Babs said...

I think we should name our home planet Minerva. Or maybe George. Thor would be pretty cool, too.

Fantasy Writer Guy said...

I like Minerva. George and Thor - well - Did I mention I like Minerva?