We Are So Tiny: Part III

We. Are. So. Tiny. This is Part III in this series; please see Part I and Part II here and here. (Also, it’s bugging me that I didn’t capitalize the “s” on so in either of those titles. Whoops.)

Space, man. Each new development in our exploration of space just makes me, as a little human being, feel so tiny at scale.

The European Space Agency captured the closest ever taken images of the sun, what they call: campfires, according to this article from The New York Times. And look at the image here. We are the small circle on the bottom left at scale.

We are the moths to the flame, tiny and fluttering. Or as Carl Sagan said (albeit, it’s a different context), “We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”

This also serves as a nice corrective to my post earlier today: the sun, despite being my nemesis, is so cool. Look at it! Look at those solar flares bubbling like a hot galaxy stew.

What I love about the vastness of space is the inherent and necessary contradiction: This is the closest we’ve ever gotten to the sun to photograph it, which is a remarkable feat of human ingenuity that would make us seem like gods in centuries past.

But, we’re still barely covering half the spread between the sun and the Earth. The spacecraft that took the photos came within about 48 miles of the sun’s surface, according to The Times.

The sun is about 94.5 miles from Earth. The vastness is always hard to compute. Or put it another way: to get to Mars from Earth is 66.4 miles. My assumption is that the problem with getting closer to the sun is the heat, not the distance, since we can get to Mars, so presumably, we could get even closer to the sun, if it was only a problem of distance.

And it seems like over the next two years, the spacecraft will get within 26 million miles. There’s a NASA spacecraft, Parker Solar Probe, which will get within four million miles.

Human engineering capabilities, and their continual improvement, never ceases to astonish me.

Here’s a fun fact from The Atlantic that blows my mind on this subject: it’s easier to fling a satellite beyond our solar system than it is to get to the sun. My earlier assumption — I like to think aloud through the blog before finding the answer on Google — about the heat issue isn’t apparently the issue. The problem is that of orbital mechanics, and the issue of trying to deal with the counter-intuitive issue of the Earth and sun’s respective gravitational pulls.

In short, it seems, the Earth’s own motion gets in the way of us trying to get to the sun, so we have to go to other planets, like Venus, to overcome that. At least, my tiny brain interprets the article’s explanation that way. Science is hard.

Humans are tiny, but awesome. Imagine figuring this stuff out.

Here’s another Sagan quote, “Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.”

And in this case as the author of The Atlantic piece suggests, we’ll eventually plunge that sun explorer right into the sun itself.

“shores of the cosmic ocean” what a beautiful phrase. It sometimes feels like nibbling at the edges of a cosmic sandwich we can’t properly comprehend the vastness of, but hey, discovery is yummy.

… and now I followed up an exquisite metaphor with a butchered metaphor about food.

Alas, space!

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