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Friday, February 15, 2013

Are Asteroids Calling On Us All To Be EARTHLINGS?

Ok, I've been REALLY bad keeping this blog running lately.  I'll blame it on a course, Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, a MOOC that I'm taking through Coursera. That, plus my teaching schedule and a bit of the winter blahs (cough, sniffle, ache...) has put me behind. I will try to be better - starting right now!

If your head's been buried in the sand today (or snow if you're like me), today has been a Double Danger Day for planet Earth. With all the hype about our expected asteroid visitor, 2012 DA14 - which, fortunately - and as expected - did NOT hit the planet, Mother Nature decided to blindside us with a unpleasant surprise - a meteor that DID strike the US - Chelyabinsk, Russia to be precise.  Because of its small size,  it was impossible to detect the object before it entered Earth's atmosphere. Scientists and politicians will debate what could have been done, what should have been done to prevent the estimated 1,200 injuries (mostly caused by glass shattered in the sonic boom as the meteor exploded into pieces) and the nearly $30 million in property damage. And everyone should be thinking about how to prevent this from happening again - deflector shields? asteroid nudging devices? Earth nets? Definitely enhanced detection!  What I haven't heard in all the buzz and internet chatter today, though, is how these two events for one day made us all think of ourselves as Earthlings, rather than Americans, Russians, British, Australians, Egyptians, Swedish, whatever we are.   Outer space doesn't acknowledge or respect our human-made artificial boundaries and categories. Doesn't care about our politics or economics, wars or religions, and it definitely doesn't care whether we're gay or straight! Doesn't care about whether the crater it's creating is in Europe or Asia or Africa or the Americas. Outer space - whether real threats like today's meteor, predicted misses like 2012  DA14, or maybe-one-of-these-days threats like solar flares or gamma ray bursts - treats us all equally. Which is to say,  it doesn't give a hoot! Its target is simply The Earth - and we are all simply Earthlings. Because the rest of the universe treats us as one planet and, by extension - one people -  isn't it about time that we did, too?

So, make this your thought for the day - what can we do to get it through our thick heads that we are EARTHLINGS? Not in the corny science fiction sense of fighting flying saucers and little green men, but in the very real sense that the universe is much bigger than our beloved "blue marble" and, like it or not, our parochial prejudices and self-interests don't mean much out there. Planet Earth and its inhabitants are in the throes of a new identity crisis, one we've never had to deal with before. Thousands of years of recorded human history and we have now come to the point where we need to put aside enough of our differences so we can join together in becoming the kind of united planet that can deal effectively with asteroid threats that seek to harm any of us, any where, any time.

Today's events are a good opportunity to start pondering this, brainstorming ideas, even making plans. Earthlings of our planet, where do we start?

Photo of Meteor, Chelyabinsk, Russia
AP Photo-nasha gazeta,

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