Connecting some very big dots

It has been quite a month. Christchurch and now Japan. A month of numerous conversations about life. How technologically advanced we are and yet so disconnected from some of the most essential aspects of life. How mystifying it is that we can now print human tissue with a 3D printer (see recent TED for talk by Anthony Atala) and yet so many of us don’t know how our own bodies work, how to grow our own vegetables, how planet Earth – at the most basic level – works. And the ‘so many of us’ includes me…

I know more about the textile industry, about Italian Renaissance Art, about pandemic planning, than I know about my own ‘system’. I’m a little embarrassed to be so ignorant of what I should be planting in the vege garden, during these first few weeks of autumn. And I really don’t know that much at all about our place in the universe.

I have some vague recollection of studying the solar system at school but to be honest I can’t remember any of it. So thanks to wikipedia here is some very, very basic information about the sun, la bella luna and the brilliant blue dot that we all call home.

The Sun

  • Is the star at the center of the solar system. So far, so good.
  • It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields.
  • It has a diameter of about 1,392,000 km, about 109 times that of Earth. Jeez.
  • Its mass is about 2×1030kilograms, 330,000 times that of Earth.
  • The mean distance of the Sun from the Earth is approximately  149.6 million kilometers.
  • Light travels from the Sun to Earth in about 8 minutes and 19 seconds. Crikey that’s quick.
  • Sunlight is Earth’s primary source of energy and supports almost all life on Earth by photosynthesis. And most of us take it for granted most of the time…
  • It drives Earth’s climate and weather. Good point.
  • The enormous effect of the Sun on the Earth has been recognized since prehistoric times. Prehistoric but wise.

The moon

  • Is the Earth’s only  natural satellite (or celestial body) that orbits a planet or smaller body, which is called its primary.
  • The Moon makes a complete orbit around the Earth with respect to the fixed stars about once every 27.3 days.
  • The tides on the Earth are mostly generated by the gradient in intensity of the Moon’s gravitational pull from one side of the Earth to the other, the tidal forces. Worth remembering.
  • This forms two tidal bulges on the Earth, which are most clearly seen in elevated sea level as ocean tides.
  • Since the Earth spins about 27 times faster than the Moon moves around it, the bulges are dragged along with the Earth’s surface faster than the Moon moves, rotating around the Earth once a day as it spins on its axis.

The Earth

  • Is the third planet from the Sun. And has Venus and Mars as neighbours.
  • Is home to millions of species including humans. Although it would appear that we’re not very good at sharing…
  • Was formed 4.54 billion years ago, and life appeared on its surface within a billion years.
  • Earth’s biosphere has significantly altered the atmosphere and other abiotic conditions on the planet, enabling the proliferation of aerobic organisms as well as the formation of the ozone layer. Such a fine balance.
  • The ozone layer, together with Earth’s magnetic field, blocks harmful solar radiation, permitting life on land.
  • Earth’s outer surface is divided into several rigid segments, or tectonic plates, that migrate across the surface over periods of many millions of years. Oh tectonic plates, how we wish you weren’t quite so rigid…
  • About 71% of the surface is covered with salt water oceans, the remainder consisting of continents and islands which together have many lakes and other sources of water contributing to the hydosphere.
  • Liquid water, necessary for all known life, is not known to exist in equilibrium on any other planet’s surface.
  • The planet’s interior remains active, with a thick layer of relatively solid mantle, a liquid outer core that generates a magnetic field, and a solid iron inner core.
  • Earth interacts with other objects in space, especially the Sun and the Moon. Yep.
  • The magnetosphere shields the surface of the Earth from the charged particles of the solar wind and is generated byelectric currents located in many different parts of the Earth.
  • At present, Earth orbits the Sun once every 366.26 times it rotates about its own axis, which is equal to 365.26 solar days, or one year.
  • Earth’s only known natural satellite, the Moon, which began orbiting it about 4.53 billionyears ago, provides ocean tides, stabilizes the axial tilt and gradually slows the planet’s rotation.

My desire to know more about our place in the solar system has in large part been sparked by the recent catastrophic earthquake activity, and considerable discussion as to whether lunar activity (perigree, super-moon etc) and  solar activity (e.g. solar flares), is connected with earthquakes. Consequently, I’ve been doing a fair amount of research. However for today, I’ve gone on quite long enough! I’ll come back to more on this in a day or so. But right now, I’d like you to do something.

Take a deep breath in, close your eyes and imagine that you are sitting cross-legged just outside the earth’s atmosphere. Far enough out to have a sense of perspective of the earth and it’s relationship to the moon and the sun. As you hover there, let your breath out and feel what you are a part of. Breathe in and breathe out, a knowing that you are a part of something remarkable.

We all – 6.9 billion humans and millions of other species – share this little blue planet, the 3rd rock from the sun. A sun, made mostly of hydrogen and helium, without which life our lives would cease to exist. Our nights are lit up by a moon, a celestial body, that governs the tidal forces of the oceans which give this planet its blue appearance.

We live on a little marbled blue dot, connected to glowing white dot, connected to a massive flaming orange dot. And how awe inspiring, how humbling, is that.

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