Small

It occurs to me that the Earth is small.

With 25,000 miles around the equator and with a 24 hour day, we spin at about 1,000 miles per hour. We fling ourselves around the sun like a spinning top held by a 93 million mile long invisible string. We dance around the Sun in an endless waltz, with a silvery satellite for a partner.

Humans comprise one species of the 1.7 million (and counting) different species on the Earth. Seven billion humans are greatly outnumbered by 10 quintillion insects. We live in isolation – focused on living our individual lives – yet inextricably balanced with each other’s fate. All spinning at 1,000 miles per hour through space. Planetary brethren. Fellow castaways on our little whirling island as it makes its yearly voyage around the Sun through dark oceans of space.

We often think of the earth in a polar-bear-up and penguin-down, North Pole-centric orientation. In our minds, we define the Earth within the context of the plane of the solar system. We don’t consider what is above or below. Yet, as a sphere, any view or orientation of the Earth is equally valid; our lay-conceptualization of the Earth is false. So what is above or below the Earth? Probably a void that would be startling to see. Or possibly lurking space monsters. Or Atlas’ shoulder.

Sometimes I close my eyes and visualize what the Earth must look like from space, with its haze of atmosphere, swirls of storms and strokes of brown and green on a deep blue canvas. We are surrounded by incomprehensible nothingness with distant pin-pricks of light peering through the black sheet of the universe. Everything is so far away. No human foot has stepped on any ground except for the Earth and our single moon that we keep tethered to us like an ever-watchful dog.

I close my eyes and I can tell you that the Earth looks small and alone from space. Hardly noticeable at all.

image source: NASA, Public Domain

Small spinning planet all alone, clinging in a regular, concentric orbit to its star of light and heat, faithfully spinning to give us day and night. With movement so regular that you can invent a reliable system of time based on it. Shielded in the shadow of gas giants to protect us from asteroids. With Polaris as a compass fixed in position to enable navigation. In the planets identified so far, none shows itself to be habitable for our needs. Our little unique home, all alone, so small. Improbable. All ours.

If the overwhelming science is correct, our little planet is ailing. Can the dissenters please remind us of the back-up plan? Terraforming a distant Earth-like planet that has yet to be identified?

Or perhaps Atlas will lift us up in his strong arms once more, toe balanced on a distant nebula, knee resting in the valley of Cassiopeia and brush us off, make us clean.

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