Context: Spring 2012, and the moon has company! Venus transition is coming….
As a Physics teacher, I love to take stock of experiences that tell us that our everyday lives are played out within the awe-inspiring enormity of space: Earth, solar system, galaxy, universe….. Of course every day, sunset and sunrise and the apparent movement of the sun across the sky tell us that we are spinning around. Better still, watch a sunset from a hillside or a beach, looking as the sun hits the horizon. This provides an opportunity to appreciate the Earth’s rotation directly; for the two minutes it takes for the sun disappear it is possible to feel that we are sitting on a giant ball spinning backwards as the horizon rises to obscure the sun. Magical.
The waxing and waning moon greets us constantly but this still remains one of the most poorly understood natural phenomena, even among well-educated people (no, it isn’t the Earth’s shadow!) However, sometimes the moon has company. Very recently I was one of the many who, looking West, were met with a view of the crescent moon in the sky with Venus just above it and Jupiter just below. It is quite remarkable so see them together in the same patch of sky as the various orbits cycle around. It is not long before the 6th June Venus transition of the Sun – an event that only happens four times in two hundred years. For me, the joy of these events, beyond marvelling at their inherent beauty, is that they remind us that the place where we live is in fact part of a much bigger world.
The tough part is that the scale of time and space are so vast that, in all likelihood, life as we know it on Earth, is all the life we will ever know. Fortunately – as evidenced through the glory of a new spring (Earth’s tilt pointing the Northern hemisphere more toward the sun!) – life as we know it is extraordinary enough! I am a Physics teacher, not a gardener but as my garden fills with frog spawn, new fig leaves, daffodils, and blossom on the trees, another thought arrives: given that we are so alone in space; isn’t is just so fabulous that all these living things have evolved at all – and should we not live in such a way that preserves and protects life as we know it for as long as we possibly can.