The Coming of the Serpent
There is something seemingly sad about Pluto's demotion from the status of planet, possibly because it shatters the story arc of Clyde Tombaugh, the observatory assistant who believed he found the long-sought "Planet X". The romance of that narrative, beginning with search for the predicted Planet "X", the arduous labors of the young assistant laboring nearly forgotten among thousands of photographic plates using a blink comparator to identify it; the selection of its name from the god of the underworld by an 11 year old British schoolgirl and finally its ascent to the crown of fame as Mickey's Dog when Walt Disney chose to ride the wave of publicity, all make for a god movie.
If Pluto's not a really planet it should have been. With a backstory like that it should at least have been famous for something.
But the recalculation of orbital perturbations now suggests there was never a "Planet X" beyond Neptune. So Pluto must content itself with being not the last of the ancient Wanderers but the first of a new class of mysteries: the world of the outer solar system. Instead of being a planet, it is now classed as largest body in the Kuiper Belt, a region extending from 30 to 50 astronomical units (1 au= the distance from earth to the sun). One can think of the Kuiper Belt as the beginning -- but only the beginning -- of the wider interstellar world. Pluto might even have greater fame potential as the greatest of the Kuiper Belt than as the least of the planets.
Josh Worth's site, If the Moon Were Only a Pixel, graphically illustrates just how little a way humanity has gone in its own neighborhood when the New Horizons probe makes its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015. We are like children wandering only but a little way from our birthplace. On the scale of the Solar System the Kuiper Belt is as near as the local Seven Eleven. Go a little further and you'll get to the first corner: the bow wave of the sun as it plunges, like a comet through intersteller space.
Even further out, at about 80-200 AU is the termination shock. This is the point where the Sun’s solar wind, traveling outward at 400 kilometers per second collides with the interstellar medium – the background material of the galaxy. This material piles up into a comet-like tail that can extend 230 AU from the Sun.
Beyond that is the Oort cloud, an astonishing 100,000 AU distant -- two thousand times further than Pluto. We don't really have much data yet on what's out there, nor will we for some time. A spacecraft like Voyager might reach it after some thousand of years yet still be in the Solar System; it will be coasting uphill out of Sol's gravity well for 126,000 AU before it begins to slide downhill into the gravity of Proxima Centauri.
However, despite the physical insignificance of the arrival of the tiny probe in the Kuiper Belt, its little mass of computers, sensors and propulsors will in informational terms be the most complex and powerful object in the outer solar system. After billions of years this vast region will be drawn into the flow of human history, its paradisal state ended forever, permanently changed by the advent of complexity, in the shape of a human artifact, several orders of magnitude greater in information processing capability than anything in that region of rocks and ice.
The only comparable event in human history to space exploration was the arrival of Christopher Columbus off the Bahamas in 1492, an event known to the Left as the Conquest of Paradise. To them it was the original corruption. For in the view of some, the defining characteristic of paradise is the absence of human knowledge -- especially European knowledge -- together with its fruits and maledictions, from the scene.
Before Columbus everyone lived in happy villages buying each other a coke. After Columbus everyone wanted -- but couldn't get -- a job in Los Angeles. Now the ruination will spread further afield. So far as we know never before has Pluto known hate, or for that matter love. But henceforth it may, at least in principle. Man, having lost paradise once, has found it again, in superabundance on the planets and is for the second time in sacred history poised to ruin everything.
Concretely history has already started on the moon. Lawyers are already arguing over who owns it. And when that happens you know that Paradise is over.
At the 2011 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, aerospace entrepreneur and commercial space expert Robert Bigelow made the case that the U.S. is just resting on its lunar laurels — and China might make a big move. In the scenario, China will continue to ramp up its space program for the next ten years, a trend the country has already expressed clear interest in pursuing. Then, based on murky international space laws, China could actually take ownership of the moon — especially if it were able to defend its claim with a constant lunar human presence. Of course, the U.S. could do the same, but is limited by a tightening space budget and a much higher level of national debt.
But who does own the moon? Technically, either no one or anyone who says they do. In 1967, the United Nations published a document (Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies) declaring that space is "the province of all mankind" and can't be divvied up, according to international space law. Many space-faring countries signed onto the agreement, but some enterprising commercial groups are still in the business of "selling" parcels of the moon to private entities, claiming that space law only applies to nations.
James Cameron's 2009 movie Avatar sees a bleak future where mankind, sounding distinctly American, arrives on distant planets in order to rip them apart for minerals and knowledge. All of viewers apparently agreed with the director's belief that this would be very bad.
Avatar was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won three, for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects. The film's home media release went on to break opening sales records and became the top-selling Blu-ray of all time. Following the film's success, Cameron signed with 20th Century Fox to produce three sequels, making Avatar the first of a planned tetralogy. The three sequels, all directed and co-written by Cameron, will be released each year starting from December 2017 to 2019.
We can dismiss the unobtainium as a cinematic prop. But knowledge! Ah there's the real gold, the source of sickness, the fountain of greed. The real threat to Pandoras everywhere is ever-increasing intelligence. Perhaps it would have been better to have stayed home. If we want to prevent the Avatar scenario, logically the best thing to do is never to launch New Horizons in the first place.
Viewed from the standpoint of information, New Horizons is not some insignificant speck that the celestial vastnesses can brush away. On the contrary it is the herald of a deadly virus: the first breath of humanity's deadly contagion; the footfall of a self-replicating bit of information that fully intends to multiply throughout the length and breadth of the Solar System until that vast space is subdued. Rather than being unassailable in its extent, the dumb, paradisal universe lies before man like some pitiful, helpless victim.
Maybe the Left will one day make up its mind over whether humanity is fundamentally a good or bad thing. Maybe the jury is still out. Perhaps the murkiest question in human philosophy is the nature of paradise. Does it lie at the beginning or end of history? Or was it perhaps a state we should lose in order to find our true fates?
Many learned men who have considered the subject believe paradise and heaven to be the same. Perhaps they are wrong. One of the most interesting commentaries on the loss of paradise is from an African, St. Augustine, in his conception of the "happy fault" or felix culpa. "The Latin expression felix culpa derives from the writings of St. Augustine regarding the Fall of Man, the source of original sin: “For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.” (in Latin: Melius enim iudicavit de malis benefacere, quam mala nulla esse permittere.)"
In that view, we had to leave paradise in order to gain heaven. Consequently humanity can never return to it; and should they find the garden again -- as on the planets -- humanity is doomed to lose it no sooner found. For the loss of paradise occurred within us; not from without. Nothing changed in the Garden but us; the moment we became capable of complex hate, cruelty, love and generosity, we were banished from it, and the way back is barred by an angel with a flaming sword.
In that view everything is "East of Eden" and all that's left for us is to go forward until we find a new heaven and earth. That is, if the lawyers let us. To paraphrase Buzz Lightyear, "to the Oort cloud and beyond".
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