Belmont Club

The Problem With Comets

First Jupiter, now maybe Mars.

C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) is an Oort cloud comet discovered on 3 January 2013 by Robert H. McNaught at Siding Spring Observatory … The comet will pass extremely close to Mars on 19 October 2014; there is even a small possibility that it could impact [Mars]  … the energy of impact might reach 20 billion megatons at the upper limit.”

“The Oort cloud … is a hypothesized spherical cloud of predominantly icy planetesimals that may lie roughly 50,000 AU, or nearly a light-year, from the Sun … astronomers believe that it is the source of all long-period and Halley-type comets entering the inner Solar System and many of the centaurs and Jupiter-family comets as well”.

“Besides the galactic tide, the main trigger for sending comets into the inner Solar System is believed to be interaction between the Sun’s Oort cloud and the gravitational fields of nearby stars or giant molecular clouds. The orbit of the Sun through the plane of the Milky Way sometimes brings it in relatively close proximity to other stellar systems …”

“In 1984, Physicist Richard A. Muller postulated that the Sun has a heretofore undetected companion, either a brown dwarf or a red dwarf, in an elliptical orbit within the Oort cloud. This object, known as Nemesis, was hypothesized to pass through a portion of the Oort cloud approximately every 26 million years, bombarding the inner Solar System with comets. However, to date no evidence of Nemesis has been found, and many lines of evidence (such as crater counts), have thrown its existence into doubt.”

While some writers are rooting for a direct hit, Sky and Telescope’s K. Beatty thinks not. Instead he asks the reader to imagine himself on the surface of the Red Planet as the giant comet passes close.  Beatty notes the role played by amateur sky watchers in finding the heretofore unremarked object.

The race is now on to turn every available sensor in the Mars neighborhood onto the passing comet. Beatty again: “Right now three craft are circling the Red Planet right now (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and ESA’s Mars Express), and both Curiosity and Opportunity are roving its surface. Potentially any of them might be commanded to take some comet pictures … The comet should pass by close enough to completely immerse Mars in its gas-and-dust coma. Who knows what might rain down onto the Martian surface?”

There has been speculation that what comets rain down are the elements of life itself.  “Existing evidence suggests that life began on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago during a period known as the “late heavy bombardment”, when the planet was battered by vast numbers of comets and asteroids … NASA scientists have replicated the impact of a comet and demonstrated that amino acids, a building block of life, could have survived the intense heat and shock waves given off in the collision.”

The universe is proving more interesting than the 19th century materialists thought. There is information in it; and we are somehow connected to that information, perhaps even derived from it.  That is an extremely old, but radical idea.

Karl Marx believed that notions of a higher purpose in the universe were merely “the conception apparently of the isolated individual, the image of very empirical fetters and limitations”. We imagine what is not there to solace ourselves. We consume the “opiate of the people” to fend of despair. Nevertheless, many Marxists argued that allowing man to imagine some purpose to life was essential to keeping the streets clean and the workers honest; a rediscovery of Voltair’s old adage that ‘if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent Him.’  For man needed some opiate after all, even if it were called ‘Victory Gin’. Among Marxists the process of creating an official religion was called “god-building”.

God-Building was an idea proposed by some prominent Marxists of the Soviet Union, but which was never adopted, and was suppressed by the official ideology. It was inspired by Ludwig Feuerbach’s ‘religion of humanity’ and had some precedent in the French Revolution with the ‘cult of reason’. The idea consisted of the notion that in place of the abolition of religion, there ought to be a new religion created which did not recognize supernatural existence, but which worshipped humanity and retained many of the cultural aspects of organized religion.

The idea of ‘god-building’ has seen a revival of late, especially by the Greens.  Each morning millions of people sort  their garbage into specially colored trash cans to facilitate a recycling which in many cases never occurs. The ancients worshipped in the sacred  groves. Modern man goes him one better by worhipping at the wastebasket.

Lenin to his credit, was consistently against god-building. He wrote an almost incoherently angry letter to Maxim Gorky after the latter suggested that it might have its uses as a cornerstone of proletarian morality. Lenin astutely saw that whatever advantages it might confer were more than offset by the admission  there could be answers  out there  that Marxism did not know. It would destroy the Party’s central place in the human universe; it would create a source of authority above the Central Committee as the arbiter of man’s searching questions.

Lenin’s advice to Gorky inform the Left’s debate over transcendence to this day.  Lenin advised Gorky to stay away from the theory, to confine his critiques of God to  cafe ridicule and personal jibes.  Attack the priests but stay away from the heavens. Lenin wrote:

A million physical sins, dirty tricks, acts of violence and infections are much more easily discovered by the crowd, and therefore are much less dangerous, than the nubile, spiritual idea of god, dressed up in the most attractive “ideological” costumes. The Catholic priest corrupting young girls (about, whom I have just read by chance in a German newspaper) is much less dangerous, precisely to “democracy”, than a priest without his robes, a priest without crude religion, an ideologically equipped and democratic priest preaching the creation and the invention of a god. For it is easy to expose, condemn and expel the first priest, while the second cannot be expelled so simply; to expose the latter is 1,000 times more difficult, and not a single “frail and pitifully wavering” philistine will agree to “condemn” him.

Focus on the excretory and reproductive regions of the body and all will be well. But at all events never watch the skies. The problem with comets is that they are too visible to deny; they enlarge the context of the debate over human existence to a scale beyond any stage that Marxism has ever set.  They force humanity to think past City Hall and remind the star-struck public that the Boss is after all, only very small potatoes in this vast universe. JRR Tolkien, who was a combat veteran of the Great War expressed the thought memorably in the Lord of the Rings.

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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