Thursday, December 8, 2011

UK prosecutors get techy; To infinity and beyond

ICT stuff. The British government is ready to replace traditional paper documents with tablets in UK courtrooms. Starting in April, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will give slates to Welsh and English prosecutors to store all forms and evidentiary items, later extending the offer to judges, jurors and defense lawyers. To start, administrators will give 35 Hewlett-Packard tablets to prosecutors in Norfolk as a test for the bigger roll out, which is estimated to save around £50 million across England and Wales.

Maybe the College of Law should do the same thing with cases. Give us tablets to save the trees. (source: The Guardian)


One-shot. If I weren’t taking up law, I’d probably be an astronaut—or at least an astronomer. You see, I’ve always been fascinated by the cosmos since as far back as I can remember. I remember looking up entries in the encyclopedia about red and white dwarfs, when kids my age were probably only concerned with Snow White’s seven or the Anthill Mob. I used to tune in to astronomy programs at Discovery channel as much as I did to Masked Rider Black or Power Rangers. (And frankly, there weren’t enough of such programs—I mean, who really cares about all the different species of insects in the Amazon or rhinos making babies?) My interest never really waned as I grew older; in the last couple of years, I’ve read Stephen King’s A Briefer History of Time and watched two seasons of Discovery Channel’s Through the Wormhole. Geeky? Lemme just say I’m a man of many interests.

With the recent discovery of a planet, Kepler-22b, that could potentially sustain life, I must admit that it was pretty exciting stuff for me. I’m not really concerned about finding life outside the Earth per se—unless there is a definitive finding that there is, none exists as far as I’m concerned, all the calculations and theories notwithstanding. My primary source of excitement comes from a general wondering of where humans would go when the Earth inevitably becomes uninhabitable. While it sounds like stuff of science fiction, the truth is that the survival of the human race would ultimately depend on its ability to go to the stars.

Quo vadis, homo sapiens?

Early postulates pointed to Mars, but all the direct missions to the red planet since the 1970’s have shown that there’s neither life nor water on its surface. The best case for Mars right now is for it to be terraformed—basically, an artificial process of making the Martian surface Earth-like. Moons like Europa (Jupiter) and Titan (Saturn) are thought to have life-sustaining properties—just not suitable for terrestrial life.

The discovery of the Gliese star system in 2005 was a big breakthrough. For the first time, astronomers detected rocky planets within the so-called Goldilocks zone (not too close to the sun that it evaporates all water and not too far that it freezes the water). The only problem is that Gliese is a red dwarf, which means that it is much weaker than our own sun and the planets therein are tidally locked, i.e. they do not rotate. In other words, there is no night and day; one side is perpetually daytime and the other nighttime. Needless to say, there are habitability issues when dealing with a star system not similar to ours.

Now, we have Kepler-22b. The report says that the planet circles a star similar to our sun and at just about the same distance; it probably has water and rock, too. The problem is that it’s 600 light years away. Even if humans could build a ship that could travel at the speed of light, the travel time would be well beyond a single generation’s lifetime. Plus, there is no assurance that the planet wouldn’t get bricked by an asteroid before humans reach it.

Be that as it may, the discoveries of planets like Kepler-22b lay the foundation for future discoveries and advancements. As things stand now, humans do not yet have the knowledge and the technology to make such incursions into the depths of space. But who knows, maybe after a couple of more centuries? After all, Tycho Brahe calculated the position of Mars in the 16th century, but it wasn't until 1964 that a man-made spacecraft, Mariner 4, finally visited our red neighbor.

Francis Paolo Tiopianco, Entry #2

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