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Friday, August 29, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 72.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Citizen Dave: The universe explained!
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Dianne and I spent last week on Duck Lake in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, at a cabin owned by our friends Andy and Nancy.

(Like the rumored "Doomsday Machine" which would continue to launch nuclear missiles even after virtually everyone had been wiped out, my blog continued without interruption as I had stockpiled posts before I left. Sorry.)

It was cooler up north, and there was always the lake to jump into (something people have been asking me to do from time to time for years), but it was still pretty hot by UP standards.

Anyway, one of my rituals up at the lake is to reread a book on Andy and Nancy's bookshelf called Stargazing, by Tom Van Holt. It's just a short volume on astronomy for laypeople.

You don't notice stars so much in the city, but they sure do grab your attention when you're sitting on a dock at midnight on a dark northern lake. This leads to all kinds of existential thoughts about the nature of the universe, some of which are answered in Stargazing.

For example, Van Holt writes:

Intelligent life is unlikely to be found elsewhere in our solar system, simply because the stable environment necessary for life -- solid landforms, an atmosphere, slight variations in temperature and pressure, light, water and gravity -- simply don't exist anywhere else in our solar system. "... On the other hand, nearly half of all stars may have solar systems... there are one hundred billion stars in our galaxy and perhaps a billion galaxies...

In other words, if half of all stars have solar systems and the average solar system has at least one planet like ours, that means there are potentially fifty billion chances that there is other intelligent life in the universe. Many of these places are likely to be more advanced than us with universal health care, functioning political systems, and no designated hitter.

While I was contemplating the vastness of the universe, its underpinning was explained in Switzerland. Physicists there think they probably have discovered something called the "Higgs boson," a particle that would seem to confirm what's called the "Standard Model" of the universe.

I think I can speak for humanity when I say two things about this. First, what a let down that in the end it all comes down to the Standard Model. It turns out that the universe is not a sexy, temperamental Italian sports car. It's a Camry. Probably used.

The other thing that I believe I can confidently say on behalf of humanity is that even after reading the story about this discovery, twice, I really still don't get what these people are talking about. And what does it have to do with things I really care about, like the fact that I get nervous every time John Axford comes in to pitch?

Still, smart guys all over the world were really excited by this, as it confirmed the existence of something that a generation of physicists had believed in for half a century without ever seeing. Much like the way Republicans believe in Mitt Romney's plans for health care.

So, there you have it. We are not alone in the universe and life is a Camry. What else do you need to know?

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