Of human space exploration

If there was one quality to define our species, what would it be? Intelligence? Social structure? Sense of exploration?

I’d say–curiosity.

It’s innate for us humans to be curious–curious about our surroundings, curious about our future and our past, curious about whether we can make our lives better, and curious about what lies beyond the farthest we’ve gone.

It’s our curiosity that pushes us to invent, to innovate, to solve–and yes, to explore. It’s our curiosity that makes us who we are; for better and for worse, our curiosity has dictated where we’ve come, and will dictate where we go.

We’ve explored most of the land masses of the Earth; in comparison, we’ve only explored bits of the depths of the ocean, and of space. Our next frontiers lie deeper down below, and further up there.

Let’s not stop being curious, as a species. On a day that our first moon-farer died, let’s keep his–and our–spirit alive.

Earth is *underpopulated* with humans

Think we’re overrunning the planet? Too many people, too little space to fit them in? Guess what—you’re wrong.

Check out this amazing info-graphic, showing how large a city would need to be, if all of the Earth’s population was living at that one city. It shows a number of scenarios, depending on the population densities of various present-day cities.

(Spoiler: The largest area on the info-graphic is less than the area of the USA.)

Link via Cafe Hayek.

Earth’s latest close encounter with an asteroid

Come Monday, an asteroid, the 2011MD, will pass quite close to Earth. How close? It’ll be closer to Earth than the orbits of GPS satellites, and will be so strongly deflected by Earth’s gravity that it’ll almost go back the way it came!

Here are some amazing simulations of the asteroid’s flyby – these are a must watch!

Link via Ian O’Neill’s blog at Discovery News.

Crowdfunding the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence

You’ve heard of SETI, right? (If you haven’t, look it up.) In short: SETI runs a telescope array, looking for any signals from space that can be attributed to intelligent life forms, as opposed to natural sources. It’s a great scientific undertaking. Unfortunately, it turns out SETI is in a cash crunch, and has suspended operations.

This is terrible. SETI pursues a human dream, that we’re probably not alone in the universe, and it’s unfortunate that there aren’t enough funds for its operation. That being said, it is understandable that different funding agencies may be forced to withdraw funding, to support more urgent causes.

Yes, we as a race have enough problems to deal with and solve here on Earth to gaze at the sky waiting for a signal that we don’t know exists. But: our problems should not, must not, stop us from dreaming – we’re where we are, for better or for worse, because we dream.

Fortunately, we can all do something about it. Do you have $10 (or more) to spare? You can donate at SetiStars.org – they’re trying to collect $200,000 to get the Allen Telescope Array back online.

Go on: donate to make life better here on Earth, but contribute to keep our dreams alive too.

Betting against climate change

Dr Don Boudreaux has offered a bet:

I’ll bet $10,000 that the average annual number of Americans killed by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes will fall over the next 20 years.

[…]

If environmentalists really are convinced that climate change inevitably makes life on Earth more lethal, this bet for them is a no-brainer. They can position themselves to earn a cool 10 grand while demonstrating to a still-skeptical American public the seriousness of their convictions.

Irrespective of the decision ‘environmentalists’ take about taking the offer up, I think the bet itself is misplaced.

The question is not simply of the number of lives lost. The number of deaths can be reduced by a number of factors, most of which boil down to being able to timely expend required amounts of resources (economic, human, technological) to ‘undo’ or prevent the harm that would otherwise occur.

Would Dr Boudreaux design his home ignoring every fire safety regulation of his region, if the fire department was right next door to his house? After all, in case of a fire, the fire department would be there in literally no time, and prevent human casualty! Or would he design his home so that even the chance of a mishap is negligible, so that resources are saved later in undoing any possible damage?

The data I would be interested in is not the number of lives lost. Rather, I’d be interested in (at least) two metrics.

First: what resources are expended over time to deal with natural calamities? (This data has to be normalized against population density in the vicinity.) How severely is the local ecosystem affected? Are the required resources increasing over time? This would indicate whether the strength and/or frequency of events is increasing over time.

Second: what is the frequency of natural disasters over time? What are the trends as to their location? For example, we know that some regions are hurricane prone, some are earthquake prone, etc. Do events follow historic patterns, or are there more events in newer locations, where these things never rarely happened before?

There are better metrics to judge the effects of climate change, than simply the number of human lives lost. Considering, at the very least, that humankind is hardly the majority fraction of life on Earth.

(I’m surprised that Dr Boudreaux blithely equates “number of Americans killed” to “life on Earth”. Really, Dr Boudreaux?)