“My god, it’s full of stars..”

The death of author and scientist Arthur C Clarke this week produced some excellent responses to his life and work in the media and in blogs across the world, including this one by WorldByStorm at the Cedar Lounge. Although there was also, I’d suggest, one not-so-excellent response in the New York Times to Clarke’s written directions for his funeral today, “Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral”. To me the NYT article reads like a by-now familiar attempt to re-entwine reason and religion and, in its final lines, misses mis-presents the implications of the quote from Clarke, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” ANYhoo.. Personally, while I enjoyed many of Clarke’s books I was more of an Asimov fan in my younger days, as well as a fan of The Stainless Steel Rat, and latterly, Terry Pratchett [new link] and Ian M Banks. Meanwhile, in a coincidental nod to Clarke, whose Sentinel in the 2001 novel originally transmitted a message towards Saturn rather than the 2001 film’s Jupiter, NASA revealed this week that the Cassini-Huygens probe has indicated that Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, may have both liquid water and organic molecules under a frozen surface. [Animation credit: NASA/JPL]
The above video is a NASA animation of Cassini’s approach to Saturn’s moon Titan revealing the suspected layering.

Here’s a previous post on Kubrick’s, and Clarke’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey“My god, it’s full of stars”

And a repeat of this video in tribute. Enjoy.

Adds Another detailed biography here.

And another interesting post here

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  • perci

    hope patrick moore will cover the titan water discovery story in April. Very exciting.

    By the way peteb we’re only a few weeks off CERN opening, and one to watch this year when they fire the particles.

  • Derek Tamil

    Didn’t The Deputy help out in the Peace Process? Isn’t it good to be reminded of athiestic foreigners in Sri Lanka this Easter? All will be well with Sri Lanka when white foreigners run it again.

  • joeCanuck

    My god! Is the bold Patrick still broadcasting?
    As an aside (sorry Pete) he picked me up in his old Rolls 40! years ago when I was hitchhiking home for the weekend when a student; he was Director of the Armagh Observatory (sadly now in trouble) at the time. I was so excited. What an interesting 30 – 40 minutes that was.

  • T Ruth

    [See commenting policy – edited moderator]

  • Greenflag

    Thanks for the links PeteB. I was at the Cassini launch 🙂 Did not know you were a fan of Asimov. Asimov wrote a series of essays in ‘The Roving Mind’ not sci-fi which gives an insight into Asimov as human being -well worth a read – if you get a chance . Never read any of Arthur C Clarke’s books apart from 2001 and the follow up .

    Finding ‘life’ somewhere else in the solar system will probably not be the surprise it once might have been . In recent years scientists have discovered that life on earth exists in places where it was presumed no life could ever survive e.g extremophiles -deep sea vent life forms . Microbial life is now know to exists at extreme depths under the earth and can survive enormous pressure and does not need ‘light’ or sun .

    It seems only a matter of time before we find ‘life’ outside the Earth and Titan seems one possibility .

    But will they ever find another Earth ? It seems unlikely that even if they did that such a planet would have the unique mix of elements , atmosphere , planetary and local solar history that would/could lead to ‘intelligent’ life .

    Back in 1974 a group of astromomers led by Frank Drake directed a radio signal toward the globular star cluster M13 . It was hoped that ‘alien’ radio astronomers living around one of the 300,000 stars in the cluster might receive the message and send a reply. Given the increase in our knowledge of how the ‘universe’ works since then we now realize that there is no chance of a reply from M13 24,000 years from now .

    Reason being that in globular clusters the density of stars is extremely high . More stars does not necessarily mean more ‘life’ . In our own part of the Milky Way galaxy the nearest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri 4.2 light years away . There are a total of 23 known stars within 13 light years of our Sun . In a globular cluster there could be 1000 stars or more within the same distance . The M15 globular cluster has 30,000 stars packed into a space only 28 light years across . Cosmic disasters , collissions , asteroid collissions , super novae all have a negative impact on any emerging life forms . Indeed it’s possible that in earths existence life may have started and become extinct several times before it finally became prevalent or strong enough to survive – presumably after the era of major space debris collisions ended .

    The Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 focused it’s mirror on a small region in space -now known as the Hubble Deep Field . More than 1500 individual galaxies were identified . These galaxies probably date to some time during the first few billion years afer the start of the universe and hence may anti date life anywhere . It is unlikely that any of these galaxies could have Earth like planets because the heavy elements to build them were not yet abundantly available . Hubble has shown us images of whats called the prebiotic (pre life) universe . From this we have learned that many galaxies are probably lifeless.

    It’s humbling to know that the carbon which is the basis of all life on earth was only first formed in the universe following the creation of giant red stars whose dense interiors are massive enough to to allow such collisions . And because stars only become red giants in the last 10% of their lifetime (as our Sun will ) there was no carbon in the universe a couple of billion years after the big bang !

    Life on earth took billions of years to advance from the microbial to cellular to animal life . Homo Sapiens has been around only 150,000 years and the hominids 2-3 million approx . And we owe our existence to a multiplicity of factor which may not be repeatable in our universe .

    I personally believe it’s a almost a ‘miracle’ that we are here and that evolution was not predestined for ‘us’ but I’ll say no more for fear of a ‘creative designer’ led shower of brickbats 🙂

  • joeCanuck

    I can’t believe that we will find intelligent life (no remarks about lack thereof in humans please) anywhere, at least in our time, Greenflag.
    I’ve no doubt though that we will find life elsewhere, maybe even on Mars.

  • Pete Baker

    Thanks Greenflag,

    To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve read either of them.

    I devoured their short stories equally avidly in my early teens.. way back when.. as well as similar from other authors. But, of their novels and longer stories, I remember tending to favour Asimov’s over Clarke’s.

    As for life elsewhere.. here’s the area the search is centred on these days.

  • Siphonophore

    My favourite Clarke book has to be A Fall of Moondust. I don’t consider it his best – Rendevous with Rama, Childhood’s End, Against the Fall of Night and of course 2001 hold that title but A Fall is a little jewel that’s too often overlooked when reviewing Clarke’s body of work.

    Greenflag – if you haven’t already I think you’d be interested in reading up on Fermi’s Paradox.

  • A quarter of a century ago I was stuck with the bottom English set in a London Comprehensive, last double period on a Friday. On grounds of illiteracy and intractability this was a self-selecting group of 15 and 16 year-old males. Yet they say there are only nine circles of Hell.

    The Art of Coarse Teaching involved making sure that the heating was on high, closing all the windows well before hand (i.e. assuming that drink and other soporific substances might have been taken). And having something light and bright, entertaining, but not too challenging to offer.

    The short stories of Clarke played their part. So allow me to acknowledge the contribution to my sanity of The Nine Billion Names of God, The Last Enemy, Nightfall, and the like.

  • majordolittle

    The SETI work ongoing owes a lot to the late Dr Carl Sagan Anyone remember the Cosmos series about 1980?

  • Jo

    Beggars me that someone posted something on this thread that desrved obliteration by the mods…thanks, howveer, for keeping the name –
    T ruth.

  • Jo

    sorry to be naive. Where was the camera taking that film?

  • Pete Baker


    Do you mean the shuttle footage?

    The camera was on the International Space Station and it was taken as the shuttle prepared to dock.

  • Mark McGregor

    Sad news. I’m currently stuck unable to complete reading one of his last books, the awful Sunstorm co-written with Stephen Baxter. I’ll have to dig out Rendezvous with Rama and read it instead.

  • Jo

    So the spacestation was perfectly synched with the shuttle.

  • Jo

    “Rendezvous with Rama”

    …was brill,

    Well worth a re-read.

    Especially at Easter.

  • The Raven

    Arthur C Clarke’s imagination knew no bounds.

    It shows you what can be accomplished, when you open your mind to the possibility of what may lie beyond whatever boundaries you impose upon yourself.

  • Mark McGregor

    He also leaves a very cool legacy – the Clarke Orbit. His name written forever in space, to be a little poetic.

  • Greenflag

    joe canuck,

    ‘I’ve no doubt though that we will find life elsewhere’

    Finding it elsewhere within this Solar System would be evidence that life is if not common at least possible in some if not all galaxies . If life i.e animal life were found beneath Titan now that would represent a breakthrough in astrobiology and would shake up some of our conceptions re the conditions under which animal life can evolve .

    ‘I can’t believe that we will find intelligent life (no remarks about lack thereof in humans please) anywhere, at least in our time,’

    IIRC the late Carl Sagan who helped start the SETI project was once involved in a ‘mathematical ‘probability ‘ project which somehow arrived at a total of perhaps 1,000,000 intelligent ‘civilisations’ in our galaxy alone .

    From what scientists have discovered since Carl Sagan’s passing , re how life and in particular our ‘intelligent’ life has evolved over the past 4 billion years on this earth it seems that though life will no doubt be found elsewhere it may be rarer than the science fiction fraternity might want to believe. It’s now accepted that Earth was quite possibly seeded via debris from the outer solar system several billion years ago.

    But life once started does not have to end up as ‘us’. And here on Earth from what the paleontologists and evolutionary anthropologists tell us it very nearly did’nt . Had that asteroid not arrived 65 million years ago and done a number on the dinosaurs or had the Isthmus of Panama not cut off the Pacific from the Atlantic or India not jutted into Asia pushing up the Himalayas which disturbed the Earths climate to bring on the Ice Ages which caused the tropical forest changes which gave rise to bipedalism among our ancestors ? And those few happy coincidences are just a small fraction of what was needed to allow ‘us’ as intelligent i.e self aware beings to evolve here on earth . Even our galactic ‘choice ‘ and our galactic ‘location’ not to mention our particular size moon and the configuration of the outer planets etc etc all conspired to our ‘survival ‘ .

    And if we are found to be ‘alone’ as intelligent beings what would that do for man’s ‘ego’ ?

  • Greenflag


    ‘As for life elsewhere.. here’s the area the search is centred on these days.’

    Thanks for that . Being able to analyse the atmosphere of far off planets seems to be one way of finding planets whch may be in the ‘goldilocks zone’ . If a far off civilization were to analyse our atmosphere it would tell them that there is life here. But there is a lot more than just a Goldilocks zone needed for intelligent life to emerge /evolve etc. For a read on why complex life may be uncommon in the universe I refer you to Rare Earth – authors Peter Ward & Donald D Brownlee .

  • Pete Baker

    One step at a time, Greenflag.

    And the first is to identify how prevalent the conditions, as we currently understand them, for life to exist are.

    The rest, for now, is conjecture.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Anyone remember the Cosmos series about 1980? ‘

    I have the DVD series 🙂 Carl Sagan was a visionary and a genius but he should have had somebody else narrate that series 🙂 Carl’s voice I found to be somewhat hypnotic and I can’t recall how many times I fell asleep while listening to that slowly rising/ falling monotone 🙂 Great series though .

    And as for the we are all star stuff -it’s true . Hard to imagine that the atoms of iron , magnesium, and carbon and other elements which go to make up our physical bodies were formed eons ago inside a Red Giant Star .

  • majordolittle

    If you go to youtube and type ‘pale blue dot’ in search, some good stuff there. Sagan was a genius.
    His catchphrase was ‘billions and billions’.

    Arthur may have been a great writer but that preposterous series he did – mysterious world- was a bit of a laughing stock with my schoolmates.

    look up Richard Feynman on wikiquote as well,

  • Greenflag

    Sibonphone ‘

    ‘if you haven’t already I think you’d be interested in reading up on Fermi’s Paradox.’

    I have but thanks anyway. I’m inclined towards the Rare Earth hypothesis based on recent findings . Of course we can only conceive of intelligent life on our terms i.e life based on carbon, and nitrogen oxygen breathing life forms but as Fermi pointed out where are the ‘radio waves ‘ of advanced civilizations? The speed of a light is a physical barrier through which it now seems impossible to penetrate .

    we know from our own history what happened when human races which had been cut off from each other for 20 to 40,000 years suddenly met up again? One race had no immunity to the others diseases aand was virtually wiped out or at least it’s civilisation collapsed . One would imagine that the same kind of potential hazard could be possible for us or them if we ever meet up with alien intelligent life forms ?

  • Greenflag

    One step at a time, Greenflag.

    Of course 🙂

    ‘ the first is to identify how prevalent the conditions, as we currently understand them, for life to exist are.’

    More prevalent than was believed 20 years ago even here on earth would seem to be the answer . On other planets or moons well I guess we’ll soon hopefully find out. The new ‘repaired’ Hubble will be a great resource in finding planets in habitable zones .

  • Comrade Stalin

    It’s now accepted that Earth was quite possibly seeded via debris from the outer solar system several billion years ago.

    I’d say that’s putting it a little strongly, Greenflag. This is one theory out of several of how life might have come about on earth. But it’s not a theory about the origins of life itself; after all, if we were seeded from elsewhere, then life must have started elsewhere, and if we accept that it can start elsewhere spontaneously then it’s not hard to accept that it could have started spontaneously here.

    It’s possible that we are the first species in the universe to evolve to where we are now. The parameters required for life to flourish require a long series of intricate coincidences.


    Great Blog Pete, I love these types of entries, it takes the whole principle of occasionally looking beyond our own wee shores to its greatest possible conclusion.
    Has anyone else heard the latest thinking that our own solar system may have many many more planets than previously thought?

    Oh, and Sagan’s series can be found online, if you know where to look.

  • Jo

    Glad we can look at ACC’s world and stretch beyond the bounds of Slugger’s beloved Donaghcloney 🙂

  • Pete – I love the fact that in amongst the politics, there’s room on Slugger for you to pursue your passion for space. Do keep reminding us that there’s more to life than politicians and their followers mincing each other’s words.

    Next up, you need to start campaigning to keep the Armagh Observatory operating … not sure if their current financial woes will affect the recently refurbed planetarium next door?

  • Greenflag


    ‘I’d say that’s putting it a little strongly, Greenflag. This is one theory out of several of how life might have come about on earth.’

    It’s generally accepted that life began on earth approx 3.8 billion years ago or approx 500 million years after Earth had formed . The exact how, and where on earth it started is still to be determined . Scientists now know that the Earth 3.8 billion years ago would not have been the kind of place that could sustain life as we know it today.

    ‘But it’s not a theory about the origins of life itself’

    IIRC I avoided that issue 🙂

    It is possible that we are the ‘first’ ‘intelligent’ life in this universe -It’s also possible that we may be the last. The universe began some 13 .5 billion years ago . 9 billion year after that the Earth was formed . 8.5 billion years after that ‘life’ began and it took ‘life almost 4 billion years to get to us . Along the way there have been several wholesale extinctions of life forms e.g the Cambrian and the dinosaur (65 ) million years ago without which ‘humanity’ could not have evolved.

    ‘The parameters required for life to flourish require a long series of intricate coincidences.’

    Lfe at a basic microbial or cellular level may form more frequently throughout the universe and just as often become extinct due to ‘cosmic’ conditions only to start up somewhere else . Here on Earth ‘life’ has survived ,adapted and evolved to all of the challenges which have threatened it over the past 4 billion years . One day the ‘luck’ will run out . Our Sun will eventually become a Red Giant Star and the Earth will become a barren cinder several billion years from now .

    In the meantime I suggest we make the most of this ‘gratifying ‘ and supremely ‘lucky’ life experience:)

  • Greenflag


    ‘Sagan was a genius.

    ‘His catchphrase was ‘billions and billions’.’

    And at that point I usually nodded off . I don’t know if i’m unusual in having found Carl’s voice hypnotic :)?

    IIRC I gave up on science fiction in my teens . Not until until Arthur C Clarke came along with his fims 2001 and the follow up did I rekindle a temporary interest in the genre 🙂

  • Wilde Rover

    I didn’t know that about Terry Pratchett. That is sad.

    A real wordsmith.

  • Dewi

    Blake’s Seven was the best.