Sunday, November 23, 2014

Intelligent Lifeform Exposes Himself to Deadly Radiation

Me, soaking in rays (photo Kathleen Scott)
Where I live, the coolest breakfasts in town (in my opinion) are hosted by Casa Garcia's Restaurant and Cantina. Here I am on a Sunday morning after a custom-filled omelet, sitting outside on one of their benches, enjoying the warm sun.

Actually, I was thinking that the solar radiation that had reached my cheeks had penetrated our planet's magnetic field and thin atmosphere. Most of the sun's deadly rays had been shielded and absorbed, and just enough made it through to give warmth to me and all the other lifeforms on the surface.

The radiation from our star is essential to life. It's the source of energy for plants and animals, and it allows water to exist in liquid form.

But sustaining life on Earth isn't our star's purpose. Actually, it has no purpose. It's simply a medium-sized star doing what stars do, blasting radiation, solar wind and occasional solar mass ejections into the space around it, all of which can destroy what we know as "life."

We're lucky that our planet has a massive hot liquid iron core that rotates far below the surface, creating a magnetic field in the space around our planet, which deflects most of what the sun sends our way. Much of what gets through is absorbed by our atmosphere. The little bit that makes it to places like Garcia's is enough to support life without destroying it.

As long as you aren't exposed too long. Stay out in the sun long enough, and your skin will start to burn. The rays might even disturb your DNA, causing skin cancer.

Mars wasn't as lucky as Earth. A smaller planet, it's smaller core cooled billions of years ago, ending it's ability to generate a protective magnetic field. The onslaught of radiation and solar particles blew away most of the atmosphere, and today only the tiniest remnants of carbon dioxide gas remain. Mars' surface is now an extremely cold, lifeless and deadly place.

This was what I was thinking when my wife took the photo. I know, I know, why can't I just enjoy being warm on a November day when the gentle folks in Buffalo are digging out from more than six feet of snow?

It's because I'm one of the intelligent lifeforms that now co-exist on Earth, and in my case I sometimes use my intelligence to think about stuff like this, especially when I can actually feel the rays bombarding my cheeks.

The sun, our oxygen-rich atmosphere, the abundance of water on our rocky surface, and our stable climate were not "put here" to make a perfect home for us humans. The Earth has been revolving around its star for about 4.5 billion years now, and the environment wasn't always ideal for life. We humans exist today because just the right conditions have accidentally come together after billions of years of Earth history.

In short, I'm lucky to be alive, breathing delicious air and feeling the warmth on my cheeks. I'm lucky to have been born, and I'm lucky I'm still alive. I've had several close brushes with death, and on this particular Sunday morning what I feel is, well, appreciation that I made it this far, far enough to reach Garcia's to enjoy a really great omelet.

I also entertained some radical thoughts about intelligent life in the universe, but you know what? That's another story....

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

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