The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On the verge of a new era.

If we are lucky, we could be on the verge of a new era. In three and half years, Mankind might have a completely different understanding of its place in the world.

The Kepler telescope, or more precisely, photometer, has been launched by NASA. This is a mission with an unprecedented capability: that of finding Earth-like planets. Though, the launch was unseen and unknown by most of us, it could prove to be one of the most significant events of the millennium. For Kepler should show us just how rare Earth-like planets are, and give us a much better idea of the likelihood of other life-bearing planets in the Universe. It will even allow us to put a number to them.

The idea behind Kepler is simple and clever. It cannot image a planet directly, but what it does is measure the dip in light, from a star, as a planet passes in front of this. From this measurement, it is possible to estimate the size of the planet in question and determine whether it lies in the "Goldilocks Zone" of being not too hot and not too cold, for life.

The photometer (light measuring device) consists of an array of CCDs, such as you might find in a digital camera, amounting to 96 million pixels, for an .95 m telescope. Kepler is to be trained for at least three and a half years, on the same spot in space, in Cygnus-Lyra where it should be able to examine around 100,000 stars for evidence of Earth-like planets. The reason it is trained for so long on one spot is to prove the presence of a planet by capturing its orbital period, when it returns, again, to the same spot, and dims its star once more. This will allow calculation of whether it lies at a suitable distance from its star, or not.

The idea of the mission is a straightforward one, but its impact on Mankind - whatever the outcome - shall prove profound. Kepler will tell us the frequency of Earth-like planets in the Universe. That will inform us not only of the future possible homes for our future descendants, but also whether other life-bearing planets are likely to exist. The impact on Humanity will be great, whether Earth-like planets are shown to be rare, or common, or somewhere in between. Personally, I have my fingers crossed that Earth-like planets will be abundant, for the Universe that that implies is so much more interesting and welcoming than the alternative. Should, however, it should be shown that Earth-like planets are rare to non-existent, that might have a strong, immediate impact on our environmental consciousness: for what greater reason could there be to look after the present world, but the knowledge that there is not going to be another?

Kepler is the first step to doing what seems unimaginable: imaging distant Earth-like planets. Ultimately, that will be the result of the present early steps. There is nothing in physics to preclude Humanity building a scope big enough (actually an array of scopes working together), to image Earth-like planets around other stars, should they actually exist. Such images could finally answer the question: is there life elsewhere in the Universe? For surely, certain colourations and spectra of light from distant planets could tell us a lot about whether there was active life on their surface.

It is beginning to look as if astronomy might answer the question of whether there is likely to be life elsewhere, within the prospective lifetimes of most of us. The building of the necessary telescopes is certainly within the technological capability of Mankind, at present: all that is needed is the, quite substantial, investment. Few scientific investigations promise to change Man's view of the world and himself more than what such telescopes could reveal.

One day, of course, probably too far in the future for any of us to ever personally know, the images from such telescopes might guide future men to visit those far off stars and begin the process that is required if Mankind is to endure the ages: colonizing the galaxy, one planet at a time.

Future historians, looking back from their distant worlds, around other stars, will trace the beginning of the exploration that led to their world's colonization to the launch of Kepler and the knowledge it brought Mankind of exactly which stars are orbited by an Earth-like planet.

One day, perhaps, each of the Earth-like planets Kepler finds will, in fact, be populated by human beings - if not, of course, already populated by something else. I hope Mankind doesn't stoop to piracy and the taking of other worlds (unless, I suppose, there were no intelligent life present, then it wouldn't be so bad, I think, to put some there).

I, for one, I am very interested to know, what Kepler learns in the next three and a half years. What it tells us, whether it be positive or negative, shall forever change Mankind's view of his place in the Universe. Now, that is a pretty good use for what amounts to a digital camera.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:39 PM 


Blogger Christine said...

That's very interesting. I think that it is a good idea. I want to find out more news on Kepler. I also am interested in what "New Horizons" is doing in the Kuiper Belt.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I will keep track of Kepler's doings, for it should prove revelatory. As for New Horizons: that is further in the future. It will not be until 2015 that New Horizons reaches Pluto and Charon then off to the Kuiper belt. So, it will be a while yet before we learn more of those bodies. In fact, all the Kepler data should be available before then.

It is an interesting time to be learning about the wider world...

7:08 PM  

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