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Wild Ideas A column by Mary Keck


Pity the moon



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September 19, 2012 - NASA landed a six-wheeled rover named Curiosity on Mars last month. Touchdown tested the limits of human innovation, and required a supersonic parachute, radar mapping, rocket motors, and a crane that lowered the rover on a 20-foot long tether.

I wonder if our drive for space exploration is fueled by a desire for permanence.

We seem to think the universe won't forget us if we make a big enough bang.

Curiosity's tracks in the red sand may seem rare and wonderful to me but only because I can't grasp the great depths of space and time since the cosmos' birth.

Instead, I mark time based on our planet's revolutions around the sun and can't imagine tracking the 100,000 light-year diameter of a Milky Way full of stars in various stages of implosion.

Yet in spite of Earth's relatively insubstantial place, humans seem determined to leave a lasting impression.

But when I consider the history of soaring comets, exploding supernova, and solar flares, our interactions with the solar system remind me of just how brief and inconsequential are the cataclysms of human life.

Still, I find comfort in the fact that my role in the cosmos is tiny.

If I were able to comprehend all the time that's passed and all the events that have occurred in my galaxy alone, the corner I've experienced might not seem as exceptional.

Recognizing my own insignificance is a little bittersweet, however. It is nice to know heart-wrenching experiences don't have the same resounding impact of two stars colliding.

But sometimes it feels like a black hole has swallowed me, and I want to shake my fist at the universe for its callous indifference.

While moon phases and kittens may seem cosmically insignificant, I'm able to appreciate those little things.

My limited human perception offers me a sensitivity that's lost on the universe. So, I'll raise a glass to the autumnal equinox on Sept. 22 and pity the moon that's too big to notice the flag stuck in its backside.

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