Thursday, September 4, 2014

There goes the galaxy!

Renaming geographic areas is nothing new. Especially areas developers wish to make seem more attractive to prospective homebuyers. Here in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C., we have North Bethesda (formerly Rockville) and North Potomac (almost Gaithersburg). It seems to be standard operation for an area about to go from semi-rural, low-density ex-urban, to something more suburban or citi-ish. North Bethesda, for example, was mostly the space between Bethesda and Rockville along Rockville Pike. It had a private school and a failing mall. But a new music center was built, and then town houses arrived, then an upscale marketplace. You can’t sell an area to potential retailer and residential investors by calling it, you know, “that really nice place between Bethesda and Rockville.” It needs its own real name: North Bethesda!

Well, guess what? It’s happening again, just on a slightly larger scale. Welcome to Laniakea! It’s Hawaiian for “immeasurable heaven.” Sounds positively lovely, doesn’t it? When I close my eyes and slowly whisper Laniakea I imagine reclining in my lounge chair on a white sandy beach shaded by coconut palms. A young lady with a grass skirt and flowers in her hair winks at me as she hands me a cool drink with fruit and a paper umbrella (or maybe for you he’s a bronzed young-man with no shirt and white cabana pants rolled up above the ankles). I take a sip and take in a deep breath. As I exhale I say to myself, “ahh, Laniakea.”

So where is Laniakea you ask? You are in it! Yup, Laniakea is a new designation for a place that has been around for a while. Turns out our Milky Way resides in the outskirts of  a “super-cluster” of galaxies. That super-cluster astronomers now call Laniakea. According to this article:

Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, lies on the far outskirts of Laniakea near the border with another supercluster of galaxies named Perseus-Pisces. "When you look at it in three dimensions, is looks like a sphere that's been badly beaten up and we are over near the edge, being pulled towards the centre," said Brent Tully, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

Solar System image courtesy NASA
(NASA Identifier: C-1980-1550)
Oh boy. Here we go again. It’s been so peaceful here in our “far outskirts” part of the edge of the universe. No other life forms from other star systems really hassle us. Interstellar crime? None at all, hardly. There was that whole Roswell thing a while back, but they don’t bother us anymore. But now? Now our little out-of-the-way galaxy is part of “Laniakea” a so-called “super cluster.” It sounds peaceful but don’t be fooled. Times they are a changing and our simple Milky Way way of life is under attack! Before you know it there is going to be a lot of construction going on, probably right here in our happy little Solar System. It’ll start with something simple. Probably a model planet will go up between Earth and Mars where some sales rep tries to sucker in investors. There will be a giant sign you can see for light-years teasing, “If you live here you’d be on your home planet by now.” Once they have enough commitments and cash they’ll build out a whole new planetary subdivision. Then they’ll have to tear down some of our empty space and put in wormholes for all the new spacecraft. Ugh! The noise, and traffic, and congestion. What a mess! Who needs it?

Mark my words, some slick huckster from the inner part of the “super cluster” is going to make an offer our Solar System can’t refuse. They’re going to buy us out and put in some retro “Laniakea Super-Clustre Centre” with a Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Chipotle.

I’ve seen it before. But we can stop these so-called "astronomers." There are environmental impact studies and re-zoning petitions. Call up your stellar reps and tell them to “say no” to galactic development. And with our environmental woes right here on Earth, surely we humans are an endangered species. We can throw that at them and slow this whole thing down in the courts.

Are you with me?