Philip Duncan: Curiosity may fulfil our wildest imaginings

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White Island's constant puffing may prevent less frequent big blows. Photo /  Bay of Plenty Tourism
White Island's constant puffing may prevent less frequent big blows. Photo / Bay of Plenty Tourism

What a week for science news. It's rare to have three major science news stories within six hours but that's what happened earlier this week when news broke that White Island had erupted, followed by Nasa landing an SUV-size craft on Mars. A few hours after that Mt Tongariro woke up from over a century of sleep and sent an ash cloud across the eastern North Island.

Mars

Watching Curiosity landing on Mars - or at least waiting for the "OK" from Nasa - was one of those rare, amazing moments in life, even if the possibilities of what this rover may find have yet to fully sink in. The rover's discoveries may change our way of life. If Nasa does find evidence of life outside of Earth I believe this discovery will be on par with inventing the wheel and making fire.

If evidence of life is found it will upheave our belief system - as occurred when we learned the world wasn't flat. What could this do to some religions? How will it alter our perception and understanding of outer space? Are humans unique? As I said to someone on Twitter the other day: "Curiosity may well find life, even if it's dead."

White Island

I grew up just outside Te Puke in a small settlement called Te Ranga. From the school (where we lived as my father was the principal) we could see White Island. It frequently vented steam and, at one point, a spectacular eruption. It's our most active volcano and overdue for a little vent. Personally, I prefer a volcano that puffs frequently rather than one that saves it up for every 100 years.

Tongariro

Speaking of a century - it's incredible to think that through the entire 1900s Mt Tongariro lay dormant on the central North Island volcanic plateau after its last eruption in 1897.

The mountain slept as history unfolded. Humans flew for the first time. The Titanic was built, sailed and was sunk. There were two world wars. Nuclear bombs were invented and used. Humans flew into outer space and landed on the moon. Computers, cellphones and the internet were invented. All through this period Mt Tongariro did nothing. Now, 12 years into this century, the mountain has come to life and etched 2012 into the history books. We can watch it erupt - in safety - with just an internet connection. We've come a long way from 1897.

- NZ Herald

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