So, I was thinking about other things to write about, like my rockstar-like socializing of late or my worldwind romance over the summer. Alas, that would be fiction, and I've already got plenty of depressed and depressing characters to juggle without adding a Mary Sue to the bunch. Despite years of toil and strain, my writings are still too rough to be thrown up here, even though I'd love to hear the, "LJ cut, you bastard!" comments. I get so little destructive criticism of my work. No, I might use this spot for snippets in the future, but not today. And, of course, you don't give a rat's ass about any of this.
So, I was thinking of merely deleting my daily supply of spam, adding my two trolls' worth to the philosophy and religion communities, and then hitting the sack at my usual hour of noonish; but one of you cloned yourself in order to break away from an old journal, which brought back my shame at my LJ laziness. I had to write something, so I thought about something completely different.
We're getting close, my friends. Not to regaining Congrefs, though that is almost certainly the next jot on the American Voters' agenda. Not to halting Global Warming, though the former Next President did an admirable job pissing off the energy giants with his movie. Not to solving this hideously convoluted mess we call our foreign policy- that's at least two years away, if ever. No, we're getting close to finding evidence of life somewhere presumably safe enough that we can't easily kill it. I'm talking outer space, friends, and I'm not joking.
You may wonder how, since your valiant efforts at SETI@home have so far only given you a more boring than usual screensaver. To that question I can give a variety of answers, each more esoteric than the next. Suffice it to say that the first smoking gun we'll see will probably be actual smoke, burned carbon compounds if you prefer, in the atmosphere of a far distant planet. How? By one (or more) of the many huge telescopes being built to search for more mundane things like stellar remnants and not-so black holes. The next generation optical and near optical telescopes will be powerful enough to see the crescent moons of distant Jupiters, fiery prominences on distant stars, and maybe the telltale chemical signs of life on distant worlds. If there is life out there, it might be very different from us, living on methane-soaked worlds or sulfurous hellholes, but more than likely it will be based on carbon. And carbon compounds burn, either as quickly as the fires consuming the Amazon rain forests or as slowly as the e. coli-infested spinach in Popeye's gut. Both processes give off gases that are distinguishable from ones produced by simple weathering of rock or the titanic orgasms of volcanoes. Free molecular oxygen would be a dead giveaway, but life doesn't necessarily require it. Nitrogen is hella useful, but energy can be stored other ways. For all the life we can reasonably imagine, though, there must be carbon, and that carbon inevitably will find its way into the upper atmosphere to be shined on by its mother star and reflect its peculiar spectral fingerprint all the way to our waiting telescopes and desktops.
You may wonder why this matters so much that I've come out of hybernation to rave about it. It matters because it will change you, my friends, and I want you to know that before the fact so you might prepare. Do I sound like a Rapture-happy preacher? Yeah, I guess, but I don't have the blueprint for what you must do to prepare yourself for the news or what path you should take afterwards. Those are different for all of us, and I'm not sure I'm ready for it yet. I'm just telling you that I'm sure it will happen, and relatively sure it will happen before the Big Three networks realize that the news will be first mass-distributed by /. rather than World News Tonight. To further compound my unfortunate analogy, you might call it a matter of faith. I'm so sure there's life out there, that the galaxy is fairly teeming with it, that I'd bet Stephen Hawking on it (and that's not a bet lightly offered by anyone). Why? Because everywhere we look on earth, there is life, from 120,000ft. in the stratosphere (spiders and other aeroplankton, if you can believe it) to deep underground and from pole to pole (although the pickin's pretty slim on the Ice unless you're a skua). Moreover, planetary systems are being found out in the Far Out practically every direction we look and from what we are finding in our own solar system, the possibilities for tenable environments are greater than even Percival Lowell imagined. Hell, we might not even have to get beyond Mars to find ETs. Dead ETs, buried and fossilized, but that would be enough. One squashed, carbonized jelly-something on Meridiani Planum and we would forever after know that wearenotalone.
Still you might wonder why I say this will change you. After all, at some point, unless you were a lifelong skeptic like me, you realized (or someone had to tell you) that there is no Santa Claus, and you didn't hang yourself or tear out your chimney in protest, right? Well, I can imagine that that did have an affect down deep, even if you never felt the need to put it into concrete words. Whatever you felt, the next Christmas was no longer the same Christmas; gifts no longer existed in a magical state that promised whatever you desired until you ripped off the wrapping; no longer did you search world maps and globes for that otherwise lonely spot in the middle of the Arctic Ocean ice sheet (don't lie, Santa saw you looking for him); no more did you accept the possible truth of fairy tales without question.
Herein lies the gist of my message. Once you know that there once were bacteria on Mars or cold amoebas on Titan or world-girdling forests on the fourth planet in the [place your star designation here] system, never again will you look up in the sky at night and see stars. From then on (if not yet with your eyes) you will see life, everywhere, and when you look back to earth the trees will no longer seem so silent and mysterious; babies no longer so miraculous. Why? Because you will finally understand in full the idea that began the first time your mother wasn't there to feed you when you were hungry; that you are not the center of the universe and aren't even living on the rock closest to it. I imagine you'll feel something like what those watching the Moon landing shortly after my birth felt when they first looked up that night; that the Moon was no longer worthy of its reputation of superstition and magic and that, for this reason, neither were they. I see you waking up the next morning going about your business pretty much like always, but deep inside you will know that Humanity is not the end-all-be-all of existence; and, if you make it through the next Christmas without blowing your brains out, you will realize that you never really needed it to be in the first place.
There are some other things I could say, but you're different people than me and you already see a different world than mine. But I'll say this: When it happens some churches will fill up and others will empty, but even those that are brimming will be full of people who will never again accept what the preacher says without question. And that's okay, too.