Happy human holidays, readers. Like everyone else around this time of year, we here at Universe HQ have been spending our long winter nights by the hearth’s side, our bifocals pushed far down our noses, all the better to look fondly back on the restless year that was 2006. What a stormy 12 months in the realm of the sciences! There were weeks alone where we couldn’t check our blogs fast enough, so fast-paced were the developments in the great research labs and space ships of our brethren!
To be honest, a simple run-down of the most exciting Science Events of 2006 seemed to us a little bit trite, far too facile — we had wanted, instead, to present you with a “Best of 2007″ list. This, however fanciful, was impossible, and although it turns out that we haven’t seen much of a Top Ten list on any of our favorite science publications yet (is this a practice reserved for the music blogs?), this end-of-year list is a little bit of a romp through concepts, stories, and people that shaped the year in the cultural microcosm that is this website. It seems the most fitting…and besides, the thought of writing about the social impact of “An Inconvenient Truth,” although worthy, withers me with boredom.
So, without further ado! The Six Best Science Events (To Me) of 2006!
Pluto is Evicted from our Solar “System”
The French literary theorist Maurice Blanchot, a man whose ability to write forthrightly about the sheer impossibility of writing is unparalleled, noted in his essay “From Dread to Language” that “one dies at the thought that any object to which one is attached is lost.” Certainly, this is how many people felt after the International Astronomical Union booted our ninth planet out of the playing field; even I composed elegies for the departed dwarf planet. Now that a little time has passed, and no part of our cosmology has been inherently demolished, we can look back to Blanchot, for he was self-concious enough to realize that “one also feels that this object is nothing, an interchangeable sign, an empty occasion.” And yes, this kind of impermanence holds powerful sway over Universe, as does the notion that the stars and taxonomies of our “Science” are a set of interchangeable signs.
NASA Finds Heart-Shaped Piece of Comet Dust
It wasn’t a headline-grabber, nor was it a story that anyone paid attention to for more than twenty minutes, but the small, pinkish, heart-shaped piece of comet dust that NASA’s Stardust project plucked from the coma of the comet Wild 2 in March of this year was the beginning of a sea change for yours truly. Do you remember Stardust? It was a relatively big deal in the pre-New Vision NASA media, before they chucked the old Shuttles back in to space in order to make more good news. The Stardust used Aerogel — a sort of magic, low-density gel that happens to be the lightest known solid — to catch fragments of cosmic dust and interstellar particles right out of the ether. In any case, by pure happenstance, one of the particles looked like little crystal heart. It was lovely, and made me think of Baudelaire; “You are a lovely, rosy, lucid Autumn sky.” A rare and exceptional example of the sciences turning a poetic leaf.
Dark Matter Was Found to Exist
Another one of those interchangeable signs that the Sciences so delicately toy with. Dark Matter, long the invisible enfant terrible of astronomy, was finally proven to exist, which, aside from making the Universe a far cooler place, validates the whole gamut of reasonable theories relying on its existence for vouchability. Of course, it’s made literally no difference for the Universe, which has been guilelessly Dark Matter-ridden since the beginning of time. The big question is, will this affect our New Vision for Space Exploration? Will man head into the cosmos knowing that 95% of it is shifty, heavy, and completely unknown?
The Unarian Academy of Science Gets HD Cameras
Some of you may know my long, fond, and complex fascination Unarius, the El Cajon, California-based “Spiritual Science” group. I visited their compound and teaching center in May and left with kind regards for their Tesla-inspired, rainbow-decked, VHS-quality vision of the future. It seemed to me then that a great part of Unarius’ appeal was in its temerity in the face of dissolution; the Space Brothers, UFOs who were supposed to make contact in 2001, never came, the group was faced with internal rifts and, after the death of the spectacularly post-real Uriel, no clear figurehead. I wrote about them with tender sarcasm, lampooning their claims of “mental channeling” and the “future artifacts” at their center, all made of plastic beads and ping-pong balls. But hell, 2006 is not the year for Unarius to wither away, and I was wrong to imagine it might be. According to their most recent E-News, the Unarians somehow updated all their video and editing equipment to HD, and premiered their first High-Definition video, “The Arrival & Roots—A Retrospective,” at the 2006 International Conclave of Light. Warmly, they note, “This upgrade will keep Unarius shows, and especially that uplifting love frequency, going out to the world in the best looking way possible.”
Long Clock People Complete Prototype Chime Mechanism
The Long Now Foundation, if you don’t already know, is a group of demure Bay-area futurists working to promote long-term thinking in our collective consciousness. Their projects are manifold and all interesting: the Rosetta Project, Seminars, Long Bets, and weird open-source timeline software that lets you view and annotate 100,000 years of biotech history. Most staggering, however, is their clock: a monument scale, multi-millennial, all mechanical clock carved into a mountain in western Nevada, which would tick and gong over a period of years and centuries as opposed to seconds and minutes, the whole thing as sort of a gift to the distant human future. In addition to a library, planetary display, and its striking scale, the clock will also host a chime mechanism. This instrument will use a progressive algorithm to generate an almost endlessly random combination of chimes. They finished the prototype this year, and Brian Eno — who is a founding member of the clock project — just released a staggeringly beautiful record called “January 07003: Bell Studies for the Clock of the Long Now.” This is a remarkable and commendable use of human energy, and a worthy merger of aesthetics and science.
In summation, let me harken to the the most recent transmission from the Unarian brothers, and offer you a Year’s End greeting. Let not the worldly trappings of this year accumulate upon you like dead weights holding you fast to the Earth plane. Rather, “recognize that these are simply the trappings of the third-dimensional life that will not carry over into the fourth dimension in a positive way,” and let your curiosity about the world take you forward. Happy New Year!