James Webb Telescope

James Webb Telescope

Our NASA and the European Space Agency plan to launch the billion dollar James Webb Telescope into orbit from the ESA spaceport in French Guiana on Halloween, though it’s neither a trick nor a treat.

The telescope is designed to look deep into space to see the earliest stars and galaxies that formed in the universe. Soon, astronomers will be able to use it to get a close look at thousands of planets. Maybe they will discover some other planets that are inhabited.
But now, along comes theoretical physicist Machio Kaku, a well-known professor at the City College of New York, to throw astronomical cold water on the idea.
“I think the chances are quite high that we make contact with an alien civilization,” Kaku says. “I think that’s a terrible idea.”   
Whoah! There goes half of the science fiction stories, films and whatever. The inhabitants of other planets, in the imagination of human writers, have not always been pleasant or even friendly, ranging from beautiful women to giant insects, but I don’t think anyone expected a scientist to tell us to ignore them.
There were fantasies written as far back as at least the 16th century that might be considered science fiction, but there wasn’t really any science as we know it to fictionalize. Scholars of the subject like to classify Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” or Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” as science fiction, but I think that’s stretching the subject.
Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” written in 1818, may be the first real science fiction that has lasted, with the scientist creating a monster.
Since it was written, Frankenstein has been published in nearly 300 editions, plus related books, stage plays, many films and television, using the monster’s character in other plots and even comedy versions.
The entertainment industries have had to manufacture such home-made monsters of one sort or another, including space aliens. But now we seem to be on the verge of encountering the real thing, if such there be.
So why does professor Kaku claim that such contact would be a terrible idea? “We all know what happened to Montezuma when he met Cortes,” he warns.
He seems confident that we all do, but, just in case, let me refresh your memory.
Montezuma had become religious and political leader of the Aztecs in the year 1502. In 1519, the Spanish invader, Herman Cortes, showed up. Montezuma made the mistake of welcoming Cortes to his capitol and showing him around.
There was lots of various confusion and carrying on, which concluded by Montezuma being killed by a bop on the head with a rock and the area being named New Spain.
It’s not clear to me what professor Kaku thinks might happen. If our astronauts encounter inhabitants on another planet, it’s unlikely that those folks will cause us any trouble.               
We’re apparently the ones with the technical superiority, or they would be visiting us. 
Or, maybe they’ve been here. Remember when people were constantly reporting seeing flying saucers, a few years back?
Maybe the visitors got a good look at us, and decided to stay home.
Visit columnist Jim Smart's web site at jamessmartsphiladelphia.com.

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