The Reach of Our Senses

The news that the Voyager Spacecraft has left the solar system and entered interstellar space fills me with happiness. Launched in 1977 – the year I was born – this little tendril of technology has extended our senses to the planets and now to the edge of our celestial neighborhood. You can actually hear a change in pitch from Voyager’s sensors as it passes the interstellar boundary. It senses, and communicates.

voyager

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The Equinox at Loughcrew Cairns

Loughcrew Cairn TRising above the fields and pastures of County Meath near the town of Old Castle stand some of the most impressive megalithic structures in Ireland. Some 24 rocky mounds dot the tops of the highest hills of the Slieve-na-Calliagh range. The largest of these were described in the 19th Century as passage tombs, but it is now clear that they served a far more interesting purpose, as astronomical clocks.

Passage Tomb at Loughcrew CairnsSome 5,000 years ago, the stone age people living in this place went to great effort to construct monuments that track the apparent motion of the sun as it rises and sets. They carried bright white quartz from a distance to face the monuments, which must have stood out as beacons to the surrounding countryside on a moonlit night. Continue reading

Life on Mars

There’s something about a nuclear-powered alien that falls from the sky, looks around with its dozen or so electric eyes, and then begins blasting things with a laser that makes me smile. But then, I’m not a Martian.

first color panorama from mars

View of Mars from our Bot on the Spot

The Times described NASA’s latest exploit as “a triumph of scientific technology,” and it is certainly a triumph. But technology is not so much scientific as science is technological. Science relies on instruments, such as Galileo’s telescopes and the latest NASA probe, to extend human senses far beyond what biology has provided us with. Continue reading