Looking at Ice Age Georgia From Outer Space

 I have a great curiosity about the ecology of southeastern North America before man colonized the region and that has always been the main focus of this blog.  It’s a frustrating obsession because there is no way I can know the exact plant and animal compositions and their interrelationships, though I believe I’ve made good educated guesses.  I’m particularly interested in Marine Isotope Stage 3–an interstadial dating to between 60,000 BP-30,000 BP.  This was a time of great climatic fluctuations that likely caused a fascinating intermingling of northern and southern species in this region.  I even fantasize that I’ve time traveled to 36,000 BP, so I can live in a homestead there and study the ecology of this past environment.  Time travel is not feasible.  However, it occurred to me that images of Ice Age Georgia have not disappeared forever.  (I swear I wasn’t stoned when this thought occurred to me, although I may have been drunk.)

w49A, a star forming region on the opposite side of the Milky Way from earth, is 36,000 light years away.  A super advanced telescope located in this region could potentially see images of Ice Age Georgia.

Earth from Space

View of earth from 22,000 miles away.

W49A is a star-forming region on the opposite side of the Milky Way galaxy from earth.  It contains an astonishing 100,000 stars in a space just 10 light years wide.  By contrast, there are only 10 stars within 10 light years of our sun.  W49A is 36,000 light years from earth.  This means that, theoretically, an alien life form looking through a super advanced telescope could be watching Georgia as it was 36,000 years ago. This alien could not see what was happening in dense forests, but they could be counting mammoths, bison, and ground sloths living in open grassland environments. SBW1 is a star located 20,000 light years from earth.  Astronomers believe it is about to become a supernova.  Theoretically, an alien from this vantage point could be observing earth as it was during the Last Glacial Maximum.

Modern telescopes made by man are incapable of directly observing planets in the closest star systems to ours, though it’s now possible to detect them indirectly.  However, Europeans are building the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) on top of a mountain in Chile.  It’s scheduled to be finished in 15 years.  This telescope will be able to see planets in neighboring star systems.  Telescope technology on earth is only about 500 years old.  Imagine an alien civilization that has been developing telescopes for 5000 years.  They could have images of earth as clear as our present day satellite images.  Some being could be seeing earth as it was tens of thousands of years ago, and they would know facts about Pleistocene ecology that we will never know.

An artist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

Artist’s rendition of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) to be constructed on top of a mountain in Chile.  It will be able to directly observe planets in other solar systems.  It’s supposed to be finished in 15 years.

Of course, humans alive today will never know whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe.  Developing a super advanced telescope that can observe life on planets thousands of light years away may be possible, but traveling those distances within a realistic lifespan defies the known laws of physics.  If I had to bet whether life existed on other planets, I would wager that it does, simply because the universe is so vast.  But life is probably rare.  It would be really weird if earth was the only planet where biological life evolved.  Without biological life, nothing would be aware of the existence of the physical universe, so the physical universe itself would not exist…or it may as well not exist.  As Rene Descarte once wrote, if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I am an agnostic.  I don’t know whether there is a God or not.  I think agnosticism is the most honest belief system.  The concept of and belief in a supreme being who can see everything we do seems very bizarre to me.  Yet, the way space and time are intertwined shows it is theoretically possible that a supreme being could witness everything we’ve ever done…as long as we did it outside in an open environment.  ATTENTION SINNERS!  This means that if there is a God, you should sin in doors, under a roof, where you can’t be seen by a supreme being who is observing the entire universe from some vantage point in space with his super duper telescope.

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