Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sir Arthur C. Clarke leaves Earth

One of the greatest science fiction (and fact) authors of all time, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, passed away today at age 90. You've probably seen "2001", widely considered the greatest movie of all time; he wrote that. You've surely used geosynchronous satellites for everything from phone calls to TV (cable or satellite) to weather; he popularized that concept too, and the tiny strip of ultra-prime orbital real estate where those satellites park is still named "the Clarke Belt". He was one of the "Big Three" authors (along with Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov) that hooked me on science fiction from the fourth grade on. He was one of the main proofs of the adage that science informs science fiction, which in return inspires new science. He was truly one of those authors who helped invent our actual future. I hope that his ideas will continue to inspire mankind to reach beyond this little planet, so that the human race may survive when the next inevitable disaster comes.

Clarke insisted that his funeral have no religious content whatsoever.

UPDATE: An enormous astronomical event, so bright that it was visible to the naked eye even though it was halfway across the universe (7.5 billion light-years) was detected just a few hours before his death. The brightest thing ever seen by humans. Some are proposing that this event be permanently named "The Clarke Event". Super-novas are big, but this is estimated at 2.5 million times more luminous than the most luminous supernova ever recorded. We're talking BIG explosion here, folks - if this gamma ray burst had happened in the farthest side of our own galaxy, we'd all be dead. Much of the galaxy itself would be missing. If we were a mere 2700 light-years away, the visible light would be brighter than the sun, but all that visible light is only a teensy side-effect from the real energy, the gamma rays, which would destroy all human life in seconds even from that distance. You like big numbers? ~9*10^45 W of peak apparent power output (that's a 9 followed by 45 zeros! You only need 19 zeros to describe the age of the universe in seconds, and each additional zero is ten times bigger!) So, that's a wall of 9 hundred-watt Marshall amps, times.... uhhh... a whole lot. There are no words for numbers that big. Humans can do the math, but cannot comprehend. So, the Clarke Event? I'm all for it.

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