Sunday, August 2, 2009

Insignificant rant

Recently, while going through some videos on the Guardian website (which has great cricket and football commentary and even better sports vids every Friday), I chanced upon the eclipse report that had the whole of Asia buzzing in the past month. There were interviews and everyone in these interviews said the usual stuff about "being excited" or" being there was awesome" and all that. Then came this Brit kid, who had travelled all the way from England to China to witness the eclipse. He said that it was unbelievable and a privilege being there. Then came the part that really got my goat;

Interviewer: It is kind of scary isn't it?
Brit kid: Yeah, I suppose it is... But it shows how insignificant we are in the Universe....

and so on and so forth
Okay, call me mental- but how in God's name are we insignificant in the Universe. As a planet, Earth is the only known one that has life- is that insignificant? This planet and the life that it supports is a culmination of all the factors that make our planet unique; liquid water, warm temperatures, the presence of the right kind of molecules to make life, and so many more- the fact that this happened- all points towards the inexorable fact that we as a planet, as a collection of ecosystems are unique.

Many may point towards the Drake equation, which is an expression that calculates the number of extraterrestrial, intelligent civilizations in a galaxy that can communicate with each other, as scientific evidence of there being as much as 50 civilizations in each galaxy. I have a few points to make:
a) It still is rare.
b) All factors in the Drake equation are open to question and predictions can have a large range of results.
c)Most importantly, I don't see aliens from the planet "Xhar" picking up their telephone and making an effort to call anyone here on Earth or anyone on another planet- via radio chatter, if you must know.

The point is that these distances between any two civilizations is large, if they exist. Life carrying planets, like Earth, need a perfect confluence of all the ingredients to make life,and are not exactly next door neighbours, and we don't exactly have aliens dropping in from their flying saucers for a cup of tea (which incidentally, also requires a saucer) every sundown. A fantastic example can be found in our own solar system- Earth and Venus are of similar size, and began with pretty much the same configuration- liquid water, and the same gases that made our early atmospheres. The fact that Venus was closer to the sun made all the water boil and it soon ended up with an atmosphere that is hot enough to melt lead and has crushing surface pressures. It only takes such a small difference in distance to achieve so different a result.

Even if there was a civilization as advanced as ours, travelling to these places would require a lot and lot of time- as we are talking about distances in light years. By then, we'll all be as good as gone and the aliens, if any, will find a hurtling spaceship in their sky and after the crash landing on their planet, find only the dust of bones of homo sapiens sapiens.

Life is rare. Places like the Earth are rare. We are not insignificant. We are significant. The large distances in space require us to appreciate the fact that we are. And the sooner we grasp that fact, the more we'll care about our own unique home.


  1. I was more in agreement with the Brit lad that we are quite insignificant when compared with rest of the wide-wide Uiniverse until I came to the last line where you said "care about our home (planet Earth)". You had me there. Wish more people thought like you and cared more for our planet. Spread the word dude.

  2. Freaking brilliant! I agree with the rareness of life on other planets. I think ur article is the strong voice for climate change. I hope leaders of today will act and stop the world from disasters.

  3. @Narayan
    well written and the topic places a food for thought!!