I'm always astonished at what the regular readers of this website find and pass along.When Daniel and I started this site, we little imagined that it would grow into this community-driven site that it did, as more and more people started sending articles. And I'm glad that they did, because not only does this site's readership-and-article-submitting community find out more than I ever could, what they find is invariably fascinating. So a huge thank you to you all.
But every now and then, something gets passed along that's just plain... well... delicious. It's the sort of thing that just invites all sorts of high octane speculation done not even at the end of the twig, but in thin air. In this case, it may be appropriate to invoke Mark Twain's observation about the theory of evolution, and apply it to today's high octane speculation, because it returns wholesale dividends of speculation for a minimum investment of fact.
This particular article, however, is not an article, but rather a professional job-offering posting of the type one often encounters when looking for jobs on the internet in...oh...say, astrophysics:
Now, probably very few of us, if any, are looking for jobs in astrophysics or astronomy, so we might have missed this opportunity for the speculation de jour so thanks to K.M. for spotting and sharing it. What caught K.M.'s - and my - attention when we read this posting was this:
Harlan J. Smith McDonal Observatory Postdoctoral Fellowship
This Fellowship is open to anyone who has their PhD in Astronomy or closely allied field or will receive it by 31 August 2020. Applicant’s research interest may be in any area of astronomy and astrophysics. Preference will the given to applicants in the following fields: Galactic archaeology, stellar astrophysics, and near-field cosmology. More info can be found at... (emphasis added)
...and &c &c and so on and so forth.
Now, things like "stellar astrophysics" and "near-field cosmology" are things that one expects to find in a grocery shopping list for PhDs seeking fellowships at an astronomical observatory to "make their name". But "galactic archaeology"?!? It's like leaving your home with a grocery list full of the usual items, and then encountering an item like "8 x 12 original Rembrandt painting, or reasonable forgery thereof, in oil, preferably on canvas but will take wood." The oddity of the item is its specialization, and rarity.
Galactic archaeology? No thinking small here... No obelisks on the Moon arranged in peculiarly regular patterns, or faces and pyramids on Mars, or oddly rectilinear features on Phobos, or eerie resemblances between Iapetus and George Lucas's Death star from his Star wars movies which just happens to have three neat parallel ridges running around its entire equator in a completely explicable-through-entirely-natural-geophysical-processes manner. That's much too small and ordinary... we need someone with a research background in galactic archaeology...
Now, granted, this phrase might stand for something as trivial as stellar and galactic history. But if so, it's a mighty peculiar usage of the English to convey the idea.
The absolute strangeness of this particular shopping list item (needless to say) has me in Mark Twain mode of getting wholesale dividends of speculation for a minimum investment of fact. So what, if anything, is going on here? Well first, we have a kind of backhanded admission that there are strange things out there that are indicative of someone having built them. Archaeologists do not ordinarily spend time trying to dig up entirely natural things that are not of intelligent origin. There are people that like digging up entirely natural things, but they're called geologists (and so on), not archaeologists. S0 perhaps looking at all these weird extraterrestrial anomalies, they have come to the conclusion that this "someone" did not come from inside this solar system, and hence, need someone to look for "likely places" that "they" came from: "dig here," only in this case the tools aren't shovels and brushes, but optical and and radio telescopes and spectroscopy.
But since we're already flailing away wildly in thin air like Wile E. Coyote, let's just kick over the restraints and get really wild. Suppose the tools available to spot likely places to "dig" were much farther along than meets the eye. What if tomography, for example, has advanced sufficiently to do it long distance with great accuracy, and unencumbered by the velocity of light? I mean, heck, if we're willing to ponder longitudinal waves in the medium capable of disintegrating planets, then the same stuff might give relatively accurate pictures of what lies beneath another planet's surface. I know that sounds far out and highly improbable (which it is), but after all, the Russians were going to send a probe to Mars equipped with radar tomography to take a peek beneath the surface of the Martian moon Phobos and the planet itself, after the European Space Agency snapped some very unusual photos of the moon, and then the Russian probe mysteriously failed, with some in the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos claiming sabotage. In my opinion, they were planning to do some extraterrestrial archaeology, and someone else did not want them to do it.
And as we're falling to the canyon floor like Wile E. Coyote, we might as well pass from "high octane speculation" into "really wild and crazy high octane speculation." What if some of the tools in our Galactic Archaeologist's toolbox include not just the usual spectroscopy and our "longitudinal wave tomography" but the ability to actually "go there" and "have a look"?
Just a thought.
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