Thursday, May 17, 2012

Untethered Galactic Nomads

"He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.

"Even the youths shall faint and be weary and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."-- Isaiah 40.29-31, KJV, Holy Bible.

Don't go getting all misty on me just because I'm beginning with a bible quote I happen to like; nor should you get apprehensive when I tell you a metaphor is aborning.  

I've been reading lots lately about extra-solar planets (planets outside our own solar system orbiting other stars) that our burgeoning technology is allowing us to discover, mostly gas-giants like our own Jupiter or even bigger.   But something amazing, even terrifying,  has emerged from data dispensed by telescopes like Kepler.   Our own galaxy may harbor as many as 100 billion planets that drift free, alone, and bereft of any solar warmth.   These balls of rock and life-potential gas--carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen--were apparently knocked out of solar orbits by early chaotic solar system formation, or perhaps by cometary encounters, or even random scuffles with bigger planetary bullies that bumped them right out the stellar playground.

So these frozen balls (100 billion in our own galaxy; how many more traveling in billions of cosmic archipelagos beyond the Milky Way?) drift in isolation and near absolute zero temperature.  Such loneliness is difficult to imagine.  Is it inconceivable that in some far, unimaginable future one of these untethered nomads might become ensnared in the gravity of an alien sun--blue/white blazing or friendly yellow like our own?   This could happen:  The frigid earth-sized mass enters orbit through no effort of its own, begins a long, hissing thaw, gasses bubble, chemicals combine, replicators form, the conditions for new life begin to percolate--quietly and soothingly, like a tea kettle on a wretched dark night.

So could one of the denizens of the Mission and the street I see daily--heavily and hideously tattooed from ankle to skull top, mortally tired, lonely and leathery,  hunch-backed by age 29, talking in a weird,  speedy prison patois, incapable of completing a coherent thought or discoursing on anything but the new execrable Avengers movie--frozen galactic nomads,  indeed--could one of these men find the solar environment that will transform him, thaw him, give him his wings?   Maybe, but don't bet on it, baby.

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