Photo by NASA
Photo by NASA
Photo by NASA
Photo by NASA
A n d W o n d e r i n g
And the next time you look up at the stars, think about the one hundred billion galaxies out there and what was happening on Earth when their light left, twelve billion years ago, on its way to you. No dinosaurs yet. Not remotely. In fact, no Earth at all.
Isn’t it just the most glorious thing that humans can see the sky and think about it as well?
Moon & Earth (again)
Every passion has at least five dimensions. But in our touch and go world, we are allowed only one dimension of any passion, two at the most. After that we are labelled. Fanatic. Nut. Bore. And both we and the passion find a shelf and shut up.
Not me. Over the next many years (I hope) I am going to write even more about my passion for the moon and the Earth and science and religion and the wonder and wondrousness of it all. I am not a label. Neither are you. We are just us. We have passions. With all their richness. Yay.
So today I want to honour Rebecca Boyle’s take on the moon and the earth. I hope you will love this exposition as much as I do.
THE PERKS OF A MOON
Earth remains unique, in this solar system and everywhere else we have looked so far. It is the only planet known to harbour life. It is the only planet whose active innards sculpt its outer face, in the form of plate tectonics, a process that itself plays a role in the dispersal and evolution of life. It is the only planet with an atmosphere thick enough to support liquid water, a climate that has remained stable for millennia and a just-right distance from its sun that keeps it warm but not too hot. These conditions exist at least in part because of Earth’s moon.
The moon’s role in Earth’s history goes back to the very beginning, some 4.5 billion years ago, when a planet the size of present-day Mars collided with the infant Earth. The cataclysm left behind an incandescent, oblong Earth and a boiling moon. The moon has been cooling and moving away from Earth ever since. The planet became more spherical as the moon began to reduce, and Earth’s crust flexed under the resulting tidal force. The early crust deformed, possibly causing the onset of tectonics. The moon’s recession also slows Earth’s spin, lengthening our day by almost two million seconds every century.
The moon’s pull guards Earth’s axis, keeping the planet near a constant 23.5-degree tilt with respect to the sun. This configuration protects Earth’s climate over millennia .… The moon provides the primary influence over Earth’s tides, which shape coastlines and the life in the oceans. Our moon’s tides most likely played a role in evolution, shepherding the first plants and tetrapods from the salty marshes of the coasts and onto land.
The moon is more than a silent, spectral satellite; it is a world unto itself, which earth’s occupants have both used and contemplated since the first sighted beings looked skyward. Earth would not be Earth without the moon. neither would the oceans or poetry, or religions, or science, or any of us.
 ‘The Race to Find Alien Moons’, Rebecca Boyle, Scientific American, March, 2021.
U N K N O W I N G
It is one thing to imagine knowing something we don’t know. It is another to imagine not knowing something we do know.
Take numbers. There was a time when no one had thought of numbers. Instead we used flint to carve lines into bone and then tallied them. Eventually, of course, we clumped them into four lines with a diagonal slice, and into symbols like V, X, C and M. But numbers, each with a different shape, singly representing many lines or beads was nowhere. That disarmingly out-there idea did eventually arise in Hindu-India, long before it showed up in a single Western mind. The wait was M’s of years.
That is all just to say how heart-tinglingly fascinating it is to me to try to imagine not knowing something I know.
I tried it. Valiantly. First with numbers, then with letters, then with clay, then wheels and microscopes and salt shakers and staples. No luck.
I thought I might be able to do it in order to experience the relief of not knowing things I wish I didn’t know, like prejudice or wilful ignorance or heartbreak. I couldn’t even conjure up relief of not knowing polyester or FaceBook. It all was hopeless. I know those things. That’s just that.
So I have to resort to abstracted, not organic, awe in order to honour the Hindu-Indian soul who thought up numbers, and Leonardo Fibonacci who brought them home to bestow on the Western world.
It is a reverse kind of wow. A harder kind.
But wow nevertheless.