[f_minor] Glenn Gould leaves the Solar System

Robert Merkin bobmerk at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 15 00:03:21 PDT 2012

Astronomers are pretty darn certain the Oort Cloud exists. The Dutch astronomer Jan Oort (1900-1992) posited that it is a debris field far beyond the orbit of Pluto from which iceballs we perceive as comets "fall" in highly eccentric elliptical orbits toward the Sun, and then shoot back to the far-off Oort Cloud.

It's additionally fitting that Glenn Gould's Bach, on a never-rust CD of gold, is heading toward distant stars, because GG's life was coeval with the belief -- once considered outre and loony, but now standard consensus among astronomers and cosmologists -- that we are not alone, that our Milky Way galaxy is strewn not just with biological life, but with intelligent civilizations. 

The (Frank) Drake Equation, which takes a precise scientific guess at the number of intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way, is the Founding Charter of the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and was first proposed in 1961.

Hollywood and Japan have engaged in a lengthy cinema dispute about the nature of First Contact. Some sci-fi flicks assume our first meeting with another intelligence will be violent, for plunder and conquest. (Or worse -- for protein.)

But others -- "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "E.T." -- assume First Contact will be peaceful, a mutual exchange of information AND culture. 

They are waiting for our Glenn Gould (and our Chuck Berry, he's on the gold CD, too); and eventually we may get to hear the electronic symphonies Krell musicians performed shortly before their super-advanced civilization mysteriously vanished overnight.

(Stephen Hawking predicts the Violent Scenario, because we have direct experience with only one scientifically intelligent species, and they -- we -- are a notoriously violent bunch. Projecting that our nature is the typical, average nature of advanced civilizations, we can expect an unpleasant First Contact.)

Pat mentioned the Oort Cloud, and I wanted to add a bit about Jan Oort himself. He was a giant of 20th Century astronomy, and another great astronomer, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, eulogized him this way:  

"The great oak of Astronomy has been felled, and we are lost without its shadow."

As violent darkness seized continental Europe, science in the occupied countries sputtered, went underground, and practically disappeared. 

But finally the war's end approached, and the occupation troops fled the Netherlands and retreated back to Germany.

One piece of war machinery they abandoned was a portable radar dish that had warned the Germans of attacking Allied aircraft. Within a day, Oort assembled engineers from the telecom giant Philips, and they quickly modified the war radar dish to become Europe's first radiotelescope. 

After years devoted to war and violence, Oort pointed the dish straight up at the heavens, and began mapping radio signals from the galaxy and the universe.

"... and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." -- Isaiah

For the rest of Oort's career, he designed ever larger and more powerful radiotelescopes, and made ever more profound and unexpected discoveries about our universe -- both its size and structure, and because radio signals travel at the speed of light, discoveries about the ancient past and the very origins of the universe. 

Oort nursed radioastronomy from an abandoned war contraption to the cutting-edge science we now use to listen for signals (and maybe music!) from other intelligent civilizations.

Oort's amazing life and achievements are reflected in an important and beautiful roman a clef, later made into a distinguished movie, "The Discovery of Heaven / De Ontdekking van de Hemel," by Dutch novelist Harry Mulisch.

Massachusetts USA

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Pat 
  To: Discussion of the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. 
  Sent: Thursday, June 14, 2012 9:14 PM
  Subject: [f_minor] Glenn Gould leaves the Solar System

  Dear all

  This has nothing to directly with GG, but he is a tiny part of the story so please hear me out.

  You probably know that the NASA Voyager spacecrafts contain a Golden Record on which sights and sounds from Earth are stored, among them a Bach recording by Glenn Gould. If you remember “32” you can see the spacecrafts being launched, accompanied to Die Kunst der Fuge while the end credits are rolling.

  Now according to NASA Voyager I is about to leave the Heliosphere (the realm where solar winds can still be measured) according to a recent press release and will enter Interstellar Space soon. It will be the first spacecraft to achieve this, followed by its companion:

  Now put on some Bach (for his music is infinite) and think about this for a minute: One Astronomical Unit (AU) is about the distance Earth-Sun. Voyager has crossed around 120 AU by now. The next physical object (probably the Oort Cloud, if it exists) is just some 1000-3000 AU away, followed by the next star system at 270 000 AU. Still think it’s a long walk home from the local pub ?

  Yet this should not depress you, au contraire ! GG’s music is almost in Interstellar Space and somehow this gives me comfort.

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