Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Distance

A parsec is about three and a quarter light years. It's a measure of distance. This is in case anyone tells you their ship made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, you can tell them what they have suggested is ridiculous and unscientific. Which of course points to the fact that such claims tend to be made in science fiction movies, since most of the parsecs that I have traveled have been - well - I have never traveled a parsec, let alone twelve. Of course, just sitting here on the earth, I can claim to have gone nearly six hundred million miles in one year. Light travels six trillion miles in a year. A parsec would be three and a quarter time that. Closing in on twenty trillion miles. In fifty-five years, I haven't quite managed that. kind of voyage, since I'm not an astrophysicist.
I took a class once, in college, called Astrophysics for Non-Science Majors. It was my chance to do that "oh wow" stuff like figuring out how long it would take to get to the nearest star. What happens to people and things when they start going at or near the  speed of light. What really happens inside a black hole. Not that there were field trips that would allow for practical applications of any of this knowledge. It was all mainly theory. In this way, parsecs could just as easily been a measure of time rather than distance. Or the number of angels that can dance on the head  of a pin.
My wife asked me how long I thought it might  take me to run from Oakland to Boulder. I figured I could probably manage ten miles a day, if I was going to be fresh and ready to go the next day. On a journey of more than twelve hundred miles, that's one hundred twenty days without a break. I might have to run through a few snow drifts if I didn't time the trip just right. And not being Forrest Gump, I don't expect that is a realistic concern.
My wife also gave me a book: Astrophysics For People In A Hurry. It was written by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I have graduated from being a non-science major to a person in a hurry. Still, even with his careful explanation, I find it difficult to imagine ever being in enough of a hurry that I might suddenly accelerate to a speed that would help me through the Kessel Run or a run through the Rockies. About the time you start adding those powers of ten to numbers that might make sense, you start to make that jump to hyperspace. Whatever that is. Warp drive? Science fiction? That's where you travel to places where you can only imagine. Science. For non-science majors.

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