Sunday, April 24, 2011

Let's Go, Let's Go…

Dear Friends,
About thirty-five years ago a couple of egg-heads with time on their hands, Carl Sagan and Edwin Salpeter were sitting around the Planetary Sciences department at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. They got to musing on what life might be like, if such existed, floating in the cold soup of Jupiter’s oceanic atmosphere. A little paper came out of their chats and subsequent calculations and speculations.
Might it be, despite the deep freeze upon the Jovian orb, the supersonic winds gyring storms larger than most of the planets in our system, cloud tops that rain down hydrogen to condense into shards of metal through electrical storms powerful enough to shatter entire worlds… might it be that some sort of life could evolve there?
Well, the two men thought so. All the ingredients for biology, all of the gunk of organic chemistry, was known to be blowing on those titanic winds. It was a very cold place to live, but there certainly was enough energy flowing into and from the planet to power biology.  There was all that lightning, auroras fluttering about Jove’s poles, a rain of exploding comets, the tidal tug and compression of a host of moons, Jupiter’s own fierce gravity, and the distant Sun. Perhaps, this Universe might kick start Life from such a mix. It did it on our own world. Why not on Jupiter?
What would such life be like? They might float like terrestrial jellyfish, but be larger than any city of our Earth. They might enjoy eating each other as much as procreating, or those two activities might be one and the same. This is not, after all, unknown among some terrestrial life forms.
Might these giant beings also have sight, optics adapted to peer through a swirl of clouds made of ice and ammonia? Would they perhaps see the dim reflectance of those moons above, the catastrophic and life engendering flash of a failed world, a comet, vaporizing in the whirring clouds? With no hands nor ears, would they develop technology to detect the drizzle of microwave radiation raining in from the television transmissions on our pale blue dot?
In 1990, Voyager One flew by Jupiter. That little robot bore a camera that could have resolved those sentient gas bags, if they exist. In those days, half a billion miles away, scientists were more interested in seeing other things there might be to see. Lots of good information, data, came from hurling that piece of tin foil, baling wire, bubble-wrap, and pre-PC computing past the largest orb circling our Mother Star. Perhaps buried in those pixels captured more than two decades ago is a the mother of all jelly fish winking some sort of eye in our direction.
We’ll likely have to go back to find out if this might be so. Sign me up.
Hic Finis Est,