Moving into the Universe, Drifting This Way and That

Sometimes

Sorry. That was a lie. Let me start over.

At any given moment, there’s a 65% chance I’m thinking about outer space. Sometimes I think about presidents and food, too, but space takes up the most… well, space, I guess.

Here. I drew you a picture.

I drew you a diagram.

My bedroom is space-themed because I’m secretly a 10-year-old boy. My first science fair project was on space. My favorite movies and television shows are about space. I can’t get enough of space, which is ironic because it’s literally the most abundant thing in the universe. If it weren’t for Teddy Roosevelt or meatballs, I would never stop thinking about it.

The only problem is that thinking about space makes me really sad. It usually happens late at night when I should be sleeping.

DON’T PANIC

Realization#1: I’m not good at math or physics. Because I like space, I’m always trying to read about it. “Trying” is the operative word, because I’m not smart enough to do it. Reading about space quickly devolves into looking at pictures of space and saying “WOW!” over and over again until my neighbor pounds on the wall. At that point, I decide that the only way for me to really understand space is to go there myself. Immersion is the best way to learn a new language. That should apply to physics, right?

Realization #2: I live in a country that can go to outer space but chooses not to. It blows my mind that we’ve developed the technology and we have this final frontier waiting and we’re just… not doing anything. It’s like being a caveman who knows how to make fire but would rather wear a lot of mammoth-hide layers instead. If I wanted to go to space, I’d have to go with a private company. Of course, no private company would take me because I don’t have a) any useful space skills like a science degree or piloting experience or b) a gazillion dollars.

However, if you represent a space-exploring company and you need an astronaut who knows her way around Twitter, LOOK NO FURTHER.

However, if you represent a space-exploring company and you need an astronaut who knows her way around Twitter, LOOK NO FURTHER.

Realization #3: Even if I did manage to get to space, it’s not like I could really explore it.

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.” – Douglas Adams

Space is so big that a manned trip to Mars isn’t possible because there’s no way to keep enough supplies on the shuttle for the whole trip. Mars is the closest planet. It would take 23 years to get to The Celestial Body Formerly Known as Planet Pluto.

Realization #4: Time is my worst enemy. It’s hard not to think about time when you’re thinking about space, because their incredibly closely intertwined.

Just ask this guy.

This guy knows what I’m sayin’.

Thinking about time always results in a tiny existential crisis for me, and space just makes it worse. Space is so big that I don’t even qualify as a speck. I’m not even a speck in the eye of a speck that’s on a slightly bigger speck, orbiting another speck. If everything goes according to plan, I have about 61 more years of life ahead of me. Even if we had to ability to send manned flights into space, that’s not enough time for the speck of a speck of a speck to explore the universe. That’s not even enough time to get to the end of the solar system. I’m going to die in a tiny corner of space without ever seeing any of it.

Realization #5: Forget about me– no one is ever going to see the universe. Unless the human race invents an impossibly brilliant mode of transportation (preferably one that’s bigger on the inside), there’s no way they’ll even leave the galaxy. Space is so, so, so big, and our tiny speck lives are so, so, so short.

Realization #6: We’re pretty interesting, for a bunch of inconsequential specks of nothing.

“We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that a significant number of our atoms-up to a billion for each of us, it has been suggested-probably once belonged to Shakespeare. A billion more each came from Buddha and Genghis Khan and Beethoven, and any other historical figure you care to name.” – Bill Bryson

Parts of me came from Shakespeare! And Genghis Khan! And Andrew Jackson! They may have been specks, but they were impressive specks. I can’t explore space. I’ll probably never even get there. We’ll never be more than specks, but we can be awesome specks. If we were anything less, we’d be betraying our atoms.

Realization #7: You know what the best part about atoms is? They come from… oh. Oh my stars.

“The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust . . .” – Lawrence Krauss

Guess I can scratch “go to space” off the ol’ bucket list.

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11 comments

  1. Charity Meinhart

    There has been more technological improvement in the last 50 years than in the previous 5,000. So if we use scary weird Maths to figure out what that means if it keeps advancing at that rate, not only should you be able to go to space, you should be able to like, BE space. Or something. I don’t know, but it’s a cool thought. if you need help with Maths like I do, might I suggest “Look Around You’s” tutorial. https://vimeo.com/13497928 (This is only the best show ever made, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you are going to be so freaking happy I introduced you to it.) Happy existential crises-ing!

  2. theliteraryhorse

    I’m stardust? I’m golden! I’ve got to find a way to get back into the garden. (To think I believed that song was about being in a drugged-out stupor….it was about astrophysics?) that makes me feel much better about liking the song

  3. -BookDinosaur-

    When I read that parts of me came from Shakespeare and Ghengis Khan, I got really, really excited. And then the wonderful pessimist inside me decided to come out. ‘Hey,’ my pessimist said to me ‘but doesn’t that mean that parts of you came from terrible, evil people like slave traders and serial killers and rapists?’

    Please tell me that’s not true. PLEASE.

    (My inner pessimist has already listed a bunch of people I am ashamed of sharing body parts with.)

  4. Sasha

    One of my goals is to re-teach myself higher math as well as some physics. I love both and am fortunately good at those things. Have you ever checked out http://www.thegreatcourses.com? They have loads of educational CDs, DVDs, and downloads of many subjects on life, the universe and everything. I love them because many of them are more like Nova programs than “educational” per se. Even Neil Degrasse Tyson has one in there called The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries. It is on my wish list.

    Have you heard that Matt Smith is leaving after the christmas special this year? There are hints that the 12th Doctor might be a woman but I’d be very surprised at that.

  5. bzzfft

    All this did for me was make me sad that in all probability, any crazy man I meet will not have a blue box I’d want to hop into.

  6. Pingback: Buckets of Rain, Buckets of Tears | Listful Thinking

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