Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What's A Million Years Between Friends?

I’ve been watching a program about the universe on The History Channel, where the narrator and people being interviewed toss around time frames of a million years here, ten billion years there. A thousand years doesn’t exist in their vocabulary and it’s difficult to hear the phrase “a million years.”

We have this huge –and I mean huge- cloud heading toward our galaxy. Not only heading toward it, but about to collide with us in only forty million years. That’s all; only forty mill. The astronomical equivalent of a few minutes on our clocks.

When you figure the universe is about thirteen billion years old, maybe more, what’s forty million between friends?

We who are into Instant Messenger and its fast two-way communication might not have the patience to send a signal to the Andromeda galaxy, two million light-years away, and wait another two million years for a reply. And that’s a nearby galaxy; something way out there would be a twenty-five billion year round-trip.

If we do hear a signal, and we have been listening intently for one, the civilization which sent it out may be long dead by now. It may have been long dead millions of years ago, maybe a billion years. The signal went out, kept going out through the immense space between galaxies, and over the eons the planet died. Someone eventually heard the message and replied to a receiver that had been lifeless before we were created.


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