Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Those with Eyes to See, Let Them See

Scientists recently announced the discovery of a planet outside our solar system that could support water and that could therefore be hospitable to life. They call it Gliese 581C.

I think that’s fascinating. I really do. I am a supporter of space exploration and I get excited by such new discoveries. The teacher of my seventh grade health class once led us in a discussion of whether or not we should be spending money to explore outer space. She and some of the students in the class were of the opinion that we would be better off spending that money on the problems we had here on earth. My logic was and is that scientific exploration in any areas, even those far removed from our planet, can lead to discoveries that could help us deal with some our earth-bound problems. Or, if we can’t solve them, maybe we could find a planet to go to if we make this one uninhabitable before the good Lord is ready to bring all things to their conclusion.

Still, I am sometimes struck by how much I don’t know about this planet. For example, until I starting thinking about it and looked it up, I did not know that the Challenger Deep in the Western Pacific Ocean is, at about 36,000 feet, the deepest spot on earth. Here’s another one I didn’t know: while the top of Mt. Everest is the highest point above sea level at 29,035 feet, the point on earth that is actually closest to outer space is Mt. Chimbarazo in Ecuador. While Mt. Chimbarazo is “only” 20,000 feet high, it sits on a higher point on the same bulge in the earth that Mt. Everest is on and is thus some 1.5 miles higher than Everest. (You can read about Mt. Chimbarazo here.)

What set me to thinking about all of this is the new globe that we bought for our home study. In looking at it I found out that there are countries on the earth that, while I had heard of them, I could not have told you where on their continent they are located. I did not know, for example, that Suriname is on the northern coast of South America, that Mauritania is in western Africa, or that Bhutan is in southern Asia between China and India. You can learn a lot by looking at a globe. Or by reading a book. Or by getting up and going somewhere.

It’s a big universe, all right, and I get excited when new things are discovered about it. Thankfully, I’m still wide-eyed enough to get excited about the new things I can find out about this big old earth, too.

It is vital to a vibrant faith, I believe, to maintain a sense of wonder and awe. And it’s not all that hard. All you have to do is pay attention.

1 comment:

johnj said...

"There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact." (Mark Twain 1883)

All the hype concerning this planet is based on a couple of simple observations: how bright the star is, how far away it is, and the fact that is velocity relative to us changes cyclically with a period of about 13 days. That liquid water, a prerequisite for life as we know it, may be found on the planet is derived from these observations.

There is something deeper in this. Why is there such a fascination with the possibility of life elsewhere in our universe? I believe there is a, mostly unstated, feeling that if life can be shown to develop anywhere in the universe where the conditions are right then there is no need for God. The power of this idea is a reaction to the extreme literalism applied to the early chapters of Genesis by some Christians.