23 July 2013

Did You Smile?

What does the Earth look like from space? Last Friday, the MESSENGER spacecraft, currently orbiting Mercury, photographed the Earth and Moon. On the same day, the CASSINI spacecraft, orbiting Saturn, did the same. If that intrigues you, check out Astronomy Picture of the Day ('APOD' to the cognoscenti). Hey, everyone you know--and I mean EVERYONE--is in those pictures. I'm sure if we were watching one of those high-tech crime dramas like NCIS or CSI we could get the resident geek-cop to "zoom in" and see our smiling faces. Funny, whenever I zoom in on photos I get less detail, not more. And I certainly can't read license plates! But that's OK, I like a good show, and I can live with some occasional lapses into techno-nonsense.

Saturn is about 900 million miles from Earth. Mercury is about 61 million miles away. You get that far away, you can't see much, just some dots in the vastness of space. And that's what we are: cosmic dust motes. In the big scale of things, humans don't amount to much. In fact, the bacteria cells we carry around in and outside of our bodies are more numerous than our human cells. Amazing notion, eh? The miracle of life is still a miracle, of course. But for now the only ones who can appreciate their own miraculousness are all in the same photo. And we don't look like all that much. I find the enormity of the universe comforting, not terrifying. I like the mystery, the awe, the wonder. I'm not afraid of uncertainty. In fact, I embrace it. Uncertainty means you get to keep exploring, seeking, questioning. Nature is pretty goddamn trippy, don't you think?

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