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A Starry, Starry Night in Paeonian Springs

What we don't know about space probably ain't worth talking about anyway.

by Michael H. Thomson
April 13, 2005

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A Starry, Starry Night in Paeonian Springs
There are many views from Paeonian Springs. One of the best is the view tonight from my deck that faces out on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail. The stars are everywhere! It is cool and crisp with the temperature hovering somewhere in the low fifties. I've put a sweater on – it might as well be a mammoth skin because I'm at that place that every human who has the vision to see has been somewhere during our long occupation of this planet. Looking out at the stars and wondering… Wondering what's out there and wondering how long it will be before we get there – not just to locations in our solar system but  beyond its confines and into the galaxy and beyond that…
 
All of the religions of the Book speak of Heaven. A place that many like me have been told all of our life is "up there." Yet as I look beyond my deck into the clear skies upward to the stars, I can't help but wonder where those ancient bearded prophetic lads came up the concept of "up there." Nevertheless, I digress; let's go back to the view from my deck. As I look at the stars, I think of members of my family whose vocations are directly connected to the heavens.
 
I think of my Uncle Tyson – a physicist – who as a young man was briefly associated with the father of our modern day space program – Dr. Werner Von Braun.  I also – constantly – think of my wife Elizabeth who has devoted her life to putting satellites into orbit and launching spacecraft such as Cassini.  Tonight she's in Moscow preparing to go to Baykonur, Kazakhstan to prepare for joint American-Russian launches later this year. Being of the Cold War generation, I sometimes mutter to myself, "who would have thought?"
 
In the mainframe of my computer there is a program always running that is connected to the SETI project.  If you are a devotee of space exploration or read a large amount of science fiction, you know that SETI is an acronym for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.  The program running in my computer is fed numbers from radio telescopes from around the world, particularly the giant telescope at Arecibo in Puerto Rico.
 
These numbers once crunched are sent back to scientists and physicists at the University of California at Berkeley who interpret the data to see if Mike Thomson may have found ET. Thousands of space enthusiasts like me participate in this volunteer project that saves millions in space exploration dollars instead of draining money from the defense war budget or those wonderfully productive social programs we all care so much about.[excuse me when I become caustic – don't worry, I slapped myself!] If you are a space nut like me and would wish to participate in this quest for ET go to http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu it's a lot of fun – I'm now past my 5000th hour of number crunching. All you need to participate is a pc.
 
Suddenly, as I think about SETI and all those billions of numbers crunching in my computer, I have a very solemn thought. For all the hopefuls out there thinking that a visit from an alien race of beings from the stars might be a good thing, I have to wonder if that would be the case. 

Utopians like to believe these visitors would share their technology with us and eliminate our light bills, cancer, toxic chemical waste, and taxes. What if our visitors have other intentions? What if they're after our minerals, our water, or our air? What if these antennaed folk are so arrogant they wouldn't stay at a Holiday Express! What if they want to EAT us? That reminds me, have you seen those images of the thousands of sharks off the Florida coastline lately? What if these space aliens are LANDSHARKS!
 
Wait a minute! Looking towards the western sky a huge light hovers in the air. It is moving very slowly – and looks massive. I'm wondering if I have shells in my 10 gauge. It's getting closer. I'm fearful. Suddenly as I hear a roar and a huge WHOOSH, It is then I realize my home is located on the final approach to Dulles International Airport.  The 747 took no note of me as it hurried through the night to unload its human cargo.
 
Sheepishly I leave the deck and go back into the kitchen sniffing my glass to see what I'd been drinking…

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