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Sofas in Space

In the 1990’s I was fortunate to spend a number of years working as a columnist for The Fauquier Citizen, a small weekly newspaper in Warrenton, VA. My editor, Lou Emerson, pretty much let me write about anything and everything. It was a great learning experience for me.

The artist as a young know-it-all.

Here’s a random sample from that era: 

Some women like to rearrange furniture.

Some men do too. But they usually get paid for doing it.

Only women move furniture as a form of recreation, a kind of spatial yoga. Naturally, men don’t understand this. Most men consider a house well arranged as long as the couch is in front of the television and not too far from the refrigerator.

In the expanding universe where Men Are From Mars and Women Wish They’d Stay There, only women get satisfaction from adjusting the furniture arrangement. In general, men like to let sleeping couches lie, preferably while they are draped upon them.

Thus, it came as no surprise to me to read about the unfortunate case of Mrs. Pauline Turner of Middlesborough, England. Mrs. Turner’s husband John filed for divorce last year after 38 years of marriage, citing his wife’s constant furniture rearranging as “unreasonable.” The judge apparently sympathized with Mr. Turner, and granted the divorce when Mrs. Turner testified that she expected to continue moving furniture.

Well, before you let that cautionary tale inhibit you from shifting the coffee table to a sunnier position by the window, let’s consider the bigger picture, shall we?

Granted that some women may be guilty of spending too much time fretting about the furniture layout. However, perhaps because on the planet as a whole women control only one percent of the world’s wealth, women seldom get to have much influence on the movers and shakers who rearrange the global picture. Maybe we move furniture as an expression of our frustration. At least we have a sense of our limitations. Unlike some people.

According to a recent article by BBC News Online science editor Dr. David Whitehouse, a group of American astronomers including researchers at NASA have proposed a daring moving scheme which could, they say, prolong Earth’s capacity to support life. The theory was developed as a response to the commonly accepted scientific prediction that the Sun will increase in brightness in the next billion years. This increase is expected to eventually raise temperatures on Earth to such an extent that all life will be eliminated.

Well, rather than wait till the last minute to come up with some dramatic Hollywood style solution, three of our brilliant astronomers, all of them men, have proposed an “alarmingly simple” plan to move Earth farther from the Sun.

Not being a brilliant astronomer myself, I can’t claim to understand the fine points of the program, but from what I could gather the general concept involves the “gravitational slingshot technique.” Apparently this method has been used successfully to send space probes to far-flung planets. According to Dr. Whitehouse, the plan would require getting “a large asteroid, about 100 km (62 miles) across, to fly past the Earth transferring some of its orbital energy to our planet.”

I guess if moving 62-mile-wide asteroids is “alarmingly simple” then you can color me alarmed, all right.

If all goes according to plan, the effect of the asteroid whizzing past Earth once every 6,000 years would cause Earth’s orbit to expand, putting us a little farther from the Sun’s increasing heat. However, the scientists admitted that if they move Earth it would likely have an effect on our galactic neighbors Venus and Mercury.

Not a problem, say the moving men. After all, once they get the hang of this planet moving thing anything could happen, including the possibility, says Dr. Whitehouse, that “many moons and planets could be moved into more favorable positions in the Solar System where their climate might support life.”

Sounds pretty exciting doesn’t it? Imagine a future where space engineers can rearrange the very constellations to suit your tastes. But, as anyone who’s ever tried to carry a couch up three flights of stairs can tell you, never underestimate the power of gravity. And even the astronomers admit that the business of moving asteroids and planets involves a certain element of risk, such as for example, if the 100 km asteroid happened to veer off course and crash into Earth. Dr. Whitehouse quotes the researchers as saying: “This danger cannot be overemphasized.”

I’ll say.

It’s nice to know that better minds than mine are working to solve problems looming a billion years ahead. In the meantime though, maybe they should practice their moving chops on a smaller scale.

How about we start with that sofa?

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