Friday, October 16, 2009

Leave it the way you found it

For mysterious reasons, many people seem concerned about the moon.

Recently NASA hit a crater on the moon with a bus-sized vehicle to see if there was frozen water under the dust. There was general alarm. Is it ethical to bombard another object in the solar system? Did we have the right? Are we in danger of messing up space?

Some of the people worrying about the moon do not have the same level of concern for global climate change on our own planet. But that's another story.

As anyone with binoculars or a telescope can tell, the moon has been hit hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of times by leftover solar system debris. The only places without craters on top of craters are the "seas" and "lakes" covered with relatively smooth melted and solidified rock. In a few billion years these areas will be just as pocked as the rest of the surface.

Humans have hit the moon repeatedly since the 1960s with jettisoned lunar landers, and probes of various kinds. Humans have left stuff there either because the instruments are impossible to retrieve, or the cars, tools, and all of that other moon landing material were too heavy, cumbersome or useless.

Should we dispose of garbage by sending it to the moon? No, of course not. Even if it were possible. it's just not right to trash a pristine world.

The idea of messing up space is different. Because, if you haven't noticed, most of the sky is space. Or it appears to be. There is a lot of invisible dark matter unaccounted for, not to mention dark energy.

If we ever want to get to another galaxy, scientists will have to figure out a non-destructive, practical way to bend or twist space.

That could make the trip short enough to tolerate. Unfortunately, whatever we beam up to warp space can only travel at the speed of light, so to reach a star 100 light years away, the beam would have to travel 100 years.

The irony is that once humans get to wherever they are going, it would turn out to be just like it is here, because Earth is a non-exceptional planet orbiting a non-exceptional star, in a non-exceptional galaxy in a non-exceptional universe, among million, billions, or an infinity of other universes.

So, the short answer is, don't worry about the moon.

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