Riding light and sending sounds in space

The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. That’s per second, not per hour. If you travel at the speed of light for an hour, you cover 671 million miles.

That’s fast, right?

Well maybe on Earth it is, but the universe is a big place. It took about five hours for the signal from the New Horizons probe to travel from Pluto to Earth. And that’s traveling at the speed of light.

To put it in perspective, take a look at this if you’ve got 45 minutes to spare:

That’s how long it would take to get from the Sun to Jupiter: 45 minutes.

Forty-five minutes of nothing but emptiness with a few big space rocks called planets, moons and asteroids showing up every few minutes to break up the monotony. I bore easily, so if it took this long to get to Jupiter, imagine how many “Are we there yet”s I’m going to ask on a trip to Pluto.

If we’re ever going to get to other parts of the galaxy, we’re going to have to break the light barrier. Which means we’re probably not going anywhere. Maybe a billion years from now, our robot satellites in space like Pioneer, Voyager and New Horizons will be picked up by some alien civilization, which will ask: What the hell is this?

This is the Golden Record we sent on Voyager back in 1977: a collection of greetings in different languages, sounds of life and selections of music, plus a roadmap to where we are. Voyager has left the solar system and is now in interstellar space.

So let’s say Voyager does end up on a planet in another part of the galaxy where there’s intelligent life. What do you think the aliens would say? Maybe this?

Check out the Speaking of Science blog at the Washington Post for more about the Golden Record.

The ‘Galaxy Quest’ rap

Galaxy Quest,” the Star Trek parody from 1999, is one of my favorite science fiction movies. Actors in a long ago cancelled television SF show called “Galaxy Quest,” are transported to a spaceship by aliens who have based their entire culture on the “historical documents” that we know as reruns. And the aliens need the actors, who they believe are really the characters in the historical documents  to combat an evil genocidal reptilian foe.

But 16 years after the movie came out, I just came across this “Galaxy Quest” rap by Sigourney Weaver, Sam Rockwell and other members of the cast:

Sigourney Weaver is pretty hot as a blonde. If you’ve never seen the movie, check it out. It’s very well done.

Here’s are some scenes that didn’t make it into the final product:

Never give up! Never surrender.

I think I just celebrated the Fourth of July

Not Robert Downey

Not Robert Downey

PBS has, for the past 35 years, broadcast “A Capitol Fourth” on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol every July 4th. It’s a live broadcast, but it has to be rehearsed. So I sat on the lawn for two hours in the rain today and waited for the dress rehearsal.

The host was Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman to fans of “The West Wing”). The thousands of us who were there didn’t come to see him. This is what we were told to expect:

Meghan Linsey, Alabama and Hunter Hayes will join Barry Manilow, Nicole Scherzinger and an eclectic list of performers to celebrate Independence Day at the 35th annual A Capitol Fourth special, airing live on PBS, Saturday, July 4th, at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Other performers will include Bradley Whitford, KC and the Sunshine Band, Lang Lang, Ronan Tynan, Robert Davi, Jack Everly and several military bands and choral groups.

Now out of all of those people, I had heard of Manilow and KC. Manilow sang a modified version of “America the Beautiful.” And when he was done, for some reason, he sang it again. From the top. Like it was the start of the show again. And I’m thinking, Did I just hit a time warp?

That’s why it’s a dress rehearsal. I don’t know what went wrong, but I thought the first version was better than the second.

By the time Manilow came on, it had stopped raining. Then we had the National Anthem, by Nicole Scherzinger, whom I had never heard of, though someone in the crowd yelled “Pussycat Dolls.” Which still didn’t matter, because I would know any of their songs either.

It was around the time KC was on stage singing “Shake Your Booty,” when I started wondering if I was going to last the whole show. Not because of the weather, but because I realized this was the third time I’d seen KC and the Sunshine Band perform, which isn’t something you admit to people. I saw him back in the ’90s, when he was doing a live gig at the dock of the World Financial Center in New York. It was next to work and it was free. Then I saw him at halftime at the NBA All-Star Game in Philadelphia in 2002 when he and a bunch of Philly’s famous, like Hall and Oates, did the half time show. And I saw him today. I guess that means I never actually paid to see him, since I didn’t know he was going to be at the all star game. And in the course of more than 20 years, I can confirm that it was the same set every time.

While I’m at the dress rehearsal, today, I’m also thinking, why is Whitford talking about fireworks? That’s tomorrow.

And I’m thinking, I thought they were saying Robert Downey, not Robert Davi. And why is he singing “New York, New York” when we’re in D.C., D.C.?

And were the Pussycat Dolls famous for singing show tunes, since this one is doing an excerpt from “Carousel”?

And why is this country singer I’ve never heard of singing “Freeway of Love.” And why is this pianist I’ve never heard of leaving out passages of “Rhapsody in Blue.”

But I lasted for pretty much the whole show, but didn’t wait for Alabama, because I don’t know anything sung by Alabama?

Anyway, as I walked out, after Ronan Tynan (another mystery name to me) sang “God Bless America,” I heard fireworks. And I walked across the street from the Capitol and saw explosions over Nationals Park in the distance.

So I’ve seen the Fourth of July’s national concert. And to be honest, I enjoyed what I saw. I’ve seen fireworks. Now, what’s left to do for the actual holiday tomorrow?

Maybe I’ll watch the show on TV, since that’s what it was made for. Probably not.