Dr. Farouk El-Baz is an Egyptian-American space scientist who worked with NASA to assist in the planning of scientific exploration of the Moon, including the selection of landing sites for the Apollo missions and the training of astronauts in lunar observations and photography.
El-Baz previously served as science advisor to Anwar Sadat, then president of Egypt. He is the author or editor of landmark books on the use of space photography to define geological features and has chaired several scientific committees. He has won numerous awards and honors such as NASA’s Apollo Achievement Award and recently had a newly discovered asteroid named after him by the American space agency in honor of his outstanding contributions to Science. The Geological Society of America has established an annual prize called the Farouk El-Baz Desert Research Award.
The noted geologist, who was nicknamed “the king,” in honor of the Egypt’s King Farouk while training astronauts for the moon landing, is currently Director of the Center for Remote Sensing and Research Professor at Boston University; his research has resulted in important advances in archaeology, geology, and geography.
I spoke with El-Baz about the latest developments in space and astronomy, humanity's future in space and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our planet.
Q. There have been reports recently that planet Earth is entering a period of "catastrophic solar hibernation" and that we are on the brink of an ice age. Is this true?
The planet is not in danger. There is a theory that if the sun stopped moving completely, everything that is orbiting it would be subject to destruction, which would be the end of the universe as we know it. At the same time, there is no reason for the sun to stop moving as it has not changed since its creation 4.5 billion years ago.
Q. What is this phenomenon and does it have a scientific basis?
We know that suns - which are stars - are born to grow and live, and then die. This means that they all follow the same life cycle, regardless of how long they live. According to observations by astronomers, it is understood that our sun will expand in size in 50 thousand years, just like other stars from far away galaxies. Of course, during that time, there will be no life on planet Earth. This is only in the hands of God Almighty.
Q. According to Islam, the sun will rise from the west before the Day of Judgment. Are there any signs that this could happen? What could pave the way for this astronomically?
According to science, the world will come to an end in 500 million years. This is based on how long astronomers predict it will take the sun to reach the Red Giant phase of its evolution. As a Red Giant, the sun will grow so large that it will fill half of the earth’s sky and scorch everything on the planet. It will then shrink significantly to a size invisible to the naked eye as it evolves into a White Dwarf. This will probably occur in about 500 billion years. A White Dwarf is sometimes referred to as “the invisible” as it so dense that not even light can escape it. These astronomical theories have no definite proof, but they try to explain what astronomers see in the vast universe that only God knows of.
Q. Can the Earth's magnetic field weaken for any reason?
Never before has the Earth's magnetic field weakened, but a change in the location of the Earth's spin axis may alter the position of the magnetic north. However, this change would not affect life on Earth. Some magnetic metals have demonstrated a shift in the direction of the magnetic north during the rotation of the Earth.
Q. Have the environmental impacts of the coronavirus affected the earth’s atmosphere and helped to heal the Ozone hole?
Coronavirus alone does not affect the earth and its environment. It will only impact the environment if human behaviour shifts and causes a change in CO2 emissions and green gases responsible for the increase in the earth's temperature.
Q. Has the pandemic affected NASA’s space tourism and Mars colonization projects?
No, Coronavirus has not affected NASA’s programs yet; neither has it affected astronauts who are being prepared to be sent to outer space soon or the production of the new spacecraft by by SpaceX.
Future trips to space will be on board space vehicles made by the American private sector. In addition to that, since the end of the American space shuttle’s flights (April 1981 to April 2011), American astronauts have been travelling to the International Space Station orbiting the Earth on a Russian shuttle at a cost of $70 million per person. For this reason, the American private sector began developing aircrafts to carry astronauts to the Earth’s orbit. This means that the door is open for a revival of space tourism and possibly future tourism to the moon. As for human colonies on Mars, this will not begin until the trips to the moon are almost normal and financially feasible.
Q. We recently read about the discovery of a new black hole. Is this true?
Yes. A new black hole has recently been discovered. Astronomers believe that black holes will increase in number as the technology used to photograph the vast universe advances.
Q. NASA set the stage for a global debate over the fundamental principles that will govern humanity's return to the moon, as it released the main tenets of an international pact for moon exploration called the Artemis Accords. Could wars such as the ongoing ‘Cold War’ between China and America extend into space? Are there clashes between the two nations over space presence?
Space exploration represents an area of cooperation between countries, for example, despite the US-China coronavirus feud, the two nation continue to cooperate and exchange information on China's mission to the moon. Therefore, I believe that the ‘Cold War’ between the world's great powers does not extend beyond the Earth's atmosphere and space will continue to represent an area of cooperation and negotiation.
Another example; during my participation in the Apollo mission, we were racing against Russia with all our might and won the bet by getting the first man on the moon before the Soviet Union. As soon as the Apollo program ended, and Russia accepted America's victory, NASA sent me and five scientists to Moscow to consult with the Russians on how to collaborate to produce a map of the moon that combined images from American and Russians missions. Although our trip to was not fruitful, it ignited the possibility of space cooperation between the eastern and western camps, that was in December 1973.
Q. The Daily Star newspaper reported that NASA scientists have detected a parallel universe where time runs backwards and the rules of physics operate in reverse. Is this true?
I have not heard about this from the scientific community, so I cannot comment on it. Maybe you can ask a physicist about this, and if you get an answer, I will be very happy if you tell me about it.