I’ve decided I’m going to have to come back to the political questions as otherwise I won’t be able to blog about anything else in the mean time!
I’ve been thinking about space- astronomy, the solar system and the universe. This topic has always fascinated me from the point of view of science but also art and imagination. How can it fail to bring you to awe and send chills down your spine? It is so hostile out there, so toxic, so vast, so deathly unconscious.
Mars is next to us, just slightly further away from the sun. Apparently, because it’s smaller than the Earth, Mars lost its inner heat to the atmosphere much more quickly long long ago, like a hot cup of tea in a cold room. Conseqently, Mars’s inner heart beat died, the volcanoes dried up and the planet geologically ground to a halt. The landscape is still marked with grooves where lava once flowed, like an old man’s furrowed brow gone cold. What would it be like to walk along those grooves, the only living thing, noiselessly treading the dust?
Venus. Venus is intriguing. The bright shining North ‘Star’, named for its beauty. But the beauty is deceptive. Venus is like Earth’s evil sister, a good girl gone bad. Because she sometimes appears deceptively as the morning star, she is occasionally referred to as Lucifer. This sister is in so many ways like Earth – about the same size and of a similar chemical composition. There were high hopes for her, but she veiled herself in thick, oppressive cloud and beneath that, nothing can exist. Venus is violently inhospitable.
If it were possible, what would it be like to roam the gentle plains and walk the empty ocean floors where once, torrents of water surged, crashed and boiled away? Feel a gentle breeze that brings relief to the ghostly stillness? Pass through every season of the year before a day has elapsed? Watch the sun rise in the West and take an age to set in the East. What would ‘day light’ even be like? So intense due to the proximity of the sun? Or an eerie twighlight beneath the impenetrable cloud? Or something unimaginable to people who have never seen it? Why did Venus not turn out like her sister? Probably because she spun so slowly on her axis that she clung onto the Carbon Dioxide and other, unsavoury gases produced by her volcanoes. These dense gases in turn allowed the sun’s rays in but not out again, and so Venus grew hotter and hotter in a dramatically excessive demonstration of global warming. Now she is hot enough to melt lead and the pressure of her atmosphere would drive you like a nail into the ground. Lightning storms flash continually in the bitter clouds high above and acid rain pours down, vapourising suddenly before hitting the ground. Venus is an awesome but desolate woman. And, but for slight differences, Earth could have taken after her.
Between Mars and Jupiter lies the asteroid belt, littered with rocky debris. Asteroids appear a constant threat to the Earth as you watch her swim slowly through a sea of rocky dots on a computerised screen. At one time it was thought that Jupiter was the Earth’s great protector, dragging asteroids in towards himself and thus deflecting them from a collision course with the Earth. But now even this giant turns out to be a false ally, often hurtling objects directly at us due to his almighty gravitational force.
Over time it has been discovered that Jupiter has up to 63 moons. One of these, Io, is unexpectedly alive and exotic. In mythology, Io was a nymph and priestess to Hera. The God Zeus seduced her and then turned her into a heifer to prevent discovery. Her mistress, Hera, sent a maddening gadfly to bite her and thus she wandered tormented throughout the world. The naming of the moon Io was prophetic. She is tormented, covered in volcanos and lava lakes over 180km wide. These lakes are bubbling cauldrons of blazing magma, a beautiful but hellish vision. The very yellow, sulfuric surface of Io shifts and moves and plumes of sulphur and sulphur dioxide spew out 500km into the sky, raining down as sulphur snow. If it were possible to know, what would this sound like? Io and 2 other moons regularly line up together and this gives Io a frequent gravity kick, which jolts her into an elliptical orbit of Jupiter. When she is furthest from Jupiter and his gravitational pull is weakest, Io stretches out. When she is nearest to Jupiter, she contracts, a solid mass of rock being squashed like a sponge ball. This constant movement generates massive heat, which is what drives Io’s frothing lava lakes. This heat source is completely different to that of Earth, or to the burning heart of Mars which grew cold.
It’s possible to go on imagining and describing and wondering like this forever. For now, it amazes me that by changing details about a heavenly body, an entirely different environment develops. Is the planet smaller, bigger, closer or further from the sun, orbited by other bodies with a gravitational force, spinning slowly or quickly? In every case, the laws of physics play out naturally (some might say predictably, for those who are smart enough to make such predictions). The solar system is a laboratory, testing out the type of environment that certain conditions produce. The more you look, the more you feel so very fond of Earth.