The encounter of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko has generated a wave of media excitement that is surely well justified.
However, science reporters and commentators who have described the comet as a “hurtling lump of dust and ice” have unwittingly downgraded the importance of the mission. They take no account of discoveries spanning more than three decades, indicating a large carbonaceous content of comets that gives rise to their dark, coal-like surfaces. Consistent with the theories of the late Sir Fred Hoyle and the present writer, the connection between comets, life and evolution has developed to the point that a life-detection experiment on the Rosetta lander would have been amply justified.
However, for mainly cultural reasons, such an experiment was not included in the mission, and in the event only indirect support of a comet-life connection can be expected from this mission.
The rendezvous with the comet that was achieved on 7 August 2014 has led to stunning close-up images of its surface. Rough terrain of low reflectivity appears to be interspersed with smoother areas that could represent recently exposed subsurface lakes that were laden with microbial life.
The high rate of outgasing that has been observed from early June points to the action of microbial life within such sub-surface lakes.
More evidence – albeit indirect evidence – pointing to our cosmic cometary ancestry is likely to be unravelled from experiments to be conducted in the Rosetta mission in the months that lie ahead.
Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe
University of Buckingham
The ‘right’ to make a noise
I find it strange that the well-respected Julian Baggini spent three pages (6 August) defending the “rights” of the noisy over those of the silent in the battle of the quiet coach on our railways.
I would have thought that, like me, he would embrace the wonderful opportunity that train travel presents to catch up with a backlog of unread books. There can be few places better for a read with an occasionally glance through the window while reflecting upon a statement or incident in the book brought for the journey.
Yes, some iPhone enthusiasts are reasonably quiet when chatting, but many still feel they have to speak up when proclaiming their personal or business messages to those electronically connected, and object if spoken to on the matter.
In other circumstances one can walk away from noisy or offensive people, but here in the confines of the train it is a blessing to retire to the sanctuary of the quiet coach to read, sleep or otherwise enjoy the journey.
East Bergholt, Suffolk
Julian Baggini surely underestimates the extent of public resistance to selfish use of mobile phones on trains and elsewhere, and of dismay at the asocial, bubble-enclosed behaviour he so eloquently describes, whose broader political roots in neoliberalism he seems not to recognise.
As a result, he havers uneasily between weary invocation of King Canute and protestation that the idea of social space can yet be rehabilitated. But the idea is in no way superseded, and needs powerfully asserting more than it does rehabilitating.
As regards trains, what’s required is not the temporary creation of completely silent “library coaches”. They would share with existing “quiet coaches” the drawback that they would seem to sanction unrestrainedly antisocial behaviour in the other coaches, as Baggini himself acknowledges.
What is needed is just permanent no-phone coaches, properly maintained as many rail passengers want and expect.
Buffoon heads for the Commons
Most people I know weren’t surprised to learn of Boris Johnson’s political ambitions, and most just shrugged. The fact that David Cameron appears to view his return as some sort of public relations game-changer goes some way to illustrating the chasm between the government of this country and those who live in it.
I don’t know that Johnson’s calculated buffoonery, transplanted to the Commons, will make any difference to the lives of ordinary Britons. Mr Cameron’s point would seem to be that Johnson has entertainment value. How is this relevant to anything?
Within 48 hours of the departure of the state-educated, northern, ethnic minority origin Baroness Warsi from a Conservative-led government, step forward the middle-aged and very white and South of England Old Etonian Boris Johnson. So much for modern Conservatives.
Secret of business in one sentence
As a former market stall trader I have been taking a keen interest in recent letters about business-school education and MBAs. My only advice would be: buy low, sell high, all the time. Hope this is not too difficult to grasp for the business types among my fellow readers.
Make your Scottish friends feel wanted
I heartily endorse your editorial “If you can’t vote, shout” (7 August). As an Englishman who has visited Scotland many times, I shall be very sorry if Scotland leaves the Union.
During the last few months when a suitable opportunity has occurred, I have spoken to good friends who will have a vote in the Scottish referendum about my keen hope that Scotland will remain in the United Kingdom, and asked them about their views. I would urge others to do the same.
My unscientific sample of four produced two who will vote No, one who will vote Yes (for reasons which I respect) and one (an Englishman who has only lived in Scotland for a few years) who will abstain. I hope this majority for the Better Together campaign will be reflected in the result on 18 September.
It is reassuring that the newspaper I have bought since it started supports the Better Together campaign and sympathises with us Scots who are temporarily removed from our nation, and are disenfranchised in the referendum.
However, it is less pleasing to note your Londoncentricity, whereby the editorial on Scotland comes second, below the one about Boris Johnson possibly standing as an MP.
Heart-warming though your passionate support for the Union is, do you realise that part of the problem is the idea that decisions affecting Scots are best taken for them by others, and that the tone of your leader makes this clear?
For an expat Scot like me, reading a newspaper called The Independent, published, I supposed, for a UK readership, it feels uncomfortable to be told that “we” should make “the Scots” feel wanted, and that “we” must not lose Scotland without mounting any resistance “ourselves”. Who exactly do you think “you” are?
The argument over what currency an independent Scotland might use makes for lively political debate but illustrates a major flaw in the referendum process.
Surely fundamental matters like this – not only currency, but EU membership, and what devolution can be expected if Scotland remains in the Union – should have been settled in principle before the referendum. This would enable the Scottish people to make an informed decision based on what independence actually means.
As it is, the partisans on each side are able to exploit the uncertainty and lack of clarity to suit their own purposes. How can the Scots make a sensible choice when they do not know for certain what they are voting for?
You report Alex Salmond as saying: “Our moment, let’s take it.”
Scottish independence is not a highland charge against the English; Scottish independence would be the first day of the future of Scotland.
Scotland needs leaders with a clear understanding of the effort and commitment involved in running an independent nation. Scotland does not need a “one mighty bound and we’re free” politician.
Alex Salmond complains that, in the Union, Scots have been governed by parties they did not elect. I am now in my eighties and for all my life, until 2010, I have been governed by parties I didn’t elect. I suspect that goes for a good many other voters too. Isn’t that what is called democracy?
Market Harborough, Leicestershire