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The Martians are coming

Lance Neita

Sunday, September 02, 2018

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The heavens declare the glory of God:

The skies proclaim the work of His hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech:

Night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words top the end of the world.

 

The opening stanza to Psalm 19 leads into what Christian writer C S Lewis hails as “the greatest poem in the Psalms and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”

King David of the Old Testament is credited with the writing of this beautiful Psalm. David, himself a poet and musician, must have often looked up in awe and wonder at the vastness and beauty of the universe, with its countless stars at night, the sun rising “at one end of the heavens, and making its circuit to the other”, and the sunset and sunrise “proclaiming the work of His hands”.

In an earlier poem, and as he contemplated the majesty and mystery of the skies, he was moved to ask a question that we have continued to ask over the ages: “What is man, that You are mindful of him, and the son of man, that You care for him?”

This long summer has been providing some magnificent sunsets in our part of the world on the north coast. At this time of the year the sun takes an extra long time to go down, and in the few precious minutes as it hangs over the horizon it paints a different picture each evening, the horizon tinged with all the colours of a rainbow.

Travelling around the island I have been fortunate to come across some incredible Jamaican sunsets and sunrises in the most unexpected places.

Of course, there is the well known Negril sunset at Rick's Café (no surprise here except when you are handed the bill), but I remember one early morning negotiating the James Hill road in Clarendon heading down to Trout Hall, and 'bucking up' a sunrise that suddenly appeared around a corner which opened up a view that momentarily eased the tension of wending my way around the treacherous hairpin and double corner bends.

Another early morning drive to the Kingston airport suddenly uncovered a magnificent picture of the eastern skies over the harbour, with the sunrise casting its spell around the downtown waterfront to the right and the Palisadoes strip to the left. A brilliant spectacle, making us envious of the Harbour View residents who probably take it for granted due to other things on their minds at 5:00 in the morning, and on a workday to boot.

The sightings of God's glory through nature sometimes have the power to lift the spirit out of the grip of depression, transgressions, hurt and pain.

I experienced such one morning when I was being rushed to hospital in the throes of acute kidney stone spasms, and suddenly catching a glimpse of the sun peeping over the horizon with its promise of a bright new day ahead.

It was enough to stop my bawling — no doubt much to the relief of my family as the noise in the car was replaced by my quiet utterances of thanks and praise.

So what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man, that You care for him?

If this was David's reaction, nearly 3,000 years ago, how much more should we wonder when we consider the extraordinary advances and discoveries taking place as we orbit the planets and the solar system, probing and sounding the galaxies millions of light years away, landing men on the moon, and living in an era of astrophysics and technology that has brought us no closer to the secrets of the universe than did David's poetic wonderings.

What on earth are they looking for, these astronomers with their telescopes and robotic space probes and human space flights?

Over the past 75 years we have made incredible advances in our quest to discover the secrets of the universe.

Planetary scientists have been discovering new worlds, new moons, and new solar systems near and far.

Genesis Chapter 1, “In the beginning”, has been questioned and challenged unsuccessfully by the aethists who envision a natural, undirected process by which the universe sprang into existence spontaneously, the big bang theory.

Christians rejoice, however, as science moves closer and closer to the acknowledgement that bang theory or no, the universe began at some finite point in the past.

The implications of various 20th century discoveries have put atheists in an awkward position. Logic now requires that they identify an uncontrolled mechanism by which the universe could have initiated, designed, created and developed itself without an Intelligent Director. Otherwise, intellectual honesty requires the necessity of a Creator God.

Another secret of the universe is yet to be uncovered, and that is whether or not there is any hard evidence of the existence of alien life.

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope was launched in 2009 with the sole purpose of detecting Earth-size planets in a region around Cynagus (a gigantic constellation in space similar to the Milky Way.) The ultimate goal is to find someplace just like home in these outer regions, and to satisfy man's insatiable appetite to discover some form of life outside of the planet Earth.

The most exciting find yet is a planet 1,400 light years away from us. Named Kepler-452b, it has a diameter 60 per cent larger than Earth's, and a 365-day orbit, leading NASA to call it Earth's bigger, older cousin and our best bet for extraterrestrial life at the moment.

Nearer to home, however, there is equal excitement mounting as new observations by the current Jupiter probe craft Juno yield clues to vast subsurface oceans on the moons of Jupiter. In fact, two of Jupiter's big moons Europa and Ganymeade are known to hold saltwater oceans. And where there are oceans, there may be life.

The space race to become the first to make contact with alien life is not confined to the USA. China, for example, has built a huge radio telescope designed to detect alien life signals from outer space. As I said in an earlier column, I hope they don't point it at us. Or, as somebody else said (it wasn't me) at the White House.

America has had their share of outer space scares. They had the fright of their life one Sunday evening, October 30, 1938, when a radio drama, War of Worlds by H G Wells, was being broadcast. The play was your typical 'the Martians are coming', a story of a Martian invasion on America.

Sunday evening in 1938 was prime time in the golden age of radio, and millions of Americans had their radios turned on. The show began at 8:00 pm as a voice announced: “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the air in War of the Worlds by HG Wells.”

Welles introduced his radio play with an ordinary introduction, followed by an announcer reading a weather report. The play went on for some time, and then the scare began. An announcer broke in to report that “Professor Farrell of the Mount Jenning Observatory” had detected explosions on the planet Mars. Then the play came back on, followed by another interruption in which listeners were informed that a large meteor had crashed into a farmer's field in Grovers Mills, New Jersey.

Soon, an announcer was at the crash site describing a Martian emerging from a large metallic cylinder. “Good heavens,” he declared, “something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now here's another and another one and another one. They look like tentacles to me…”

The fictionalised report continued that the Martians had mounted walking war machines and fired “heat ray” weapons at the puny humans gathered around the crash site. They annihilated a force of 7,000 National Guardsmen, and released a poisonous gas into the air. Soon “Martian cylinders” landed in Chicago and St Louis.

The radio play was extremely realistic, with Welles employing sophisticated sound effects and his actors doing an excellent job portraying terrified announcers and other characters.

An announcer reported that widespread panic had broken out in the vicinity of the landing sites, with thousands desperately trying to flee.

Perhaps as many as a million radio listeners believed that a real Martian invasion was underway. Panic broke out across the country. In New Jersey, terrified civilians jammed highways seeking to escape the alien marauders. People begged police for gas masks to save them from the toxic gas and asked electric companies to turn off the power so that the Martians wouldn't see their lights. One woman ran into an Indianapolis church where evening services were being held and yelled, “New York has been destroyed! It's the end of the world! Go home and prepare to die!”

Welles had to go on the air to remind listeners that it was just fiction. It was the type of evening, almost 80 years ago, that America would like to forget.

With all this playing around, I hope the Martians don't bother to land in Jamaica. They might ask to be taken to our leaders. They would deserve what they get. Mek dem stay dere.

 

— Lance Neita is a public relations consultant and free lance writer. Comments to the Observer or to lanceneita@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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