Life on Earth 2.0 – with graphics upgrade

Note:  Please forgive the re-post – still seems relevant.

Life on earth, in fact all life (as far as we know) is sustained by the razor thin and fragile atmosphere of a relatively tiny random globe in an obscure and nondescript solar system based on a third rate star hugging the inner edge of one immense spiral arm of a generic spiral galaxy in a far flung region of the vast and only Universe we know (although we are beginning to suspect that there may be others – see Multiverse Theory).


Looking outward to the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of a universe of lights, I saw majesty – but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There, contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all the human drama and comedy. That’s where life is; that’s were all the good stuff is.

~ Loren Acton, Astronaut, USA

Many people have wondered why we ever spent the money to go into space in the first place.  The answer?  Perspective.


We needed to look at the earth from this vantage point because we needed to understand the stakes – we needed to see clearly what we had to lose.

For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light – our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance.

~ Ulf Merbold, Astronaut, Federal Republic of Germany

We needed to fully grasp the wonderment of which we are but a miniscule part. 


The Earth and our Solar System belong to the Milky Way, a spiral galaxy that contains an estimated 200 to 400 billion other stars. If we could look at it from above, it would look very much like a lot of the other spiral galaxies in the Universe. Structurally it consists of a dense bright center, which oddly is the hallmark of a supermassive black hole, with long spiral arms pin-wheeling thousands of light-years out into space. Our Sun lies on the inner rim of the Orion spiral arm more than halfway to the edge of the Galaxy from its center.

The Sun itself is revolving around the center of the Milky Way at a speed of half a million miles per hour, yet it will still take 200 million years to complete the circumnavigation.  Did you know that we’re all whipping through space at a half a million miles per hour?  Yeeha!  Boogie baby! 


We, all of us, everyone and everything you will ever know cling to an orb that is but a dust mote suspended in a thin ray of precious light, a single glittering grain of sand in the overwhelming vastness of space. 


If the earth is an infinitesimal fraction of the known universe (and it is), the inhabitable parts of it are an even tinier part of the whole.  We inhabit a very thin sliver of the available territory in the universe known as the biosphere, and to the best of our knowledge it’s the only territory that’ll do.  Life as we know it, human life anyway, is a very small niche industry as it turns out.

Before I flew I was already aware of how small and vulnerable our planet is; but only when I saw it from space, in all its ineffable beauty and fragility, did I realize that human kind’s most urgent task is to cherish and preserve it for future generations.

~ Sigmund Jähn, Astronaut, German Democratic Republic


Life on earth started with single-cell organisms by a process much speculated about but not well understood.


I’ll not bore you with the details of evolution with which you are no doubt familiar, suffice it to say, things evolved. 


From single-cells to multicellular to ever more diverse forms of plant and animal life, the onward and upward march of evolution is written in the geological record for all to see.


The sheer diversity of life on earth is stunning.  Virtually every environment on the planet has been colonized by multitudinous forms of life.  We have even discovered life in the most extreme and improbable environments on earth.  These miraculous creatures are known as extremophiles.


Life on earth has assumed natural forms of great physical beauty.


The different forms life can take are nothing less than bewildering in their endless variety.


To me the natural world has always been a never-ending source of wonder, joy, and fascination.  Virtually every aspect of it interests and inspires me.  Cosmology, astronomy, biology, geology, archeology, paleontology, and on and on – every way in which we can look at this world and this life excites me.  Lord, how I am going to hate to see it go!


Humanity has been blessed by great teachers, but cursed by war and greed.


Our teachers have counseled us to cherish this life and this world.  They have taught that we should be kind and compassionate to each other.  The have warned us not to be destructive and mean-spirited.  They have asked us not to be greedy or shortsighted.  They have begged us to take proper care of each other – and of the earth.  We have been poor students I’m afraid.

We’re losing the rainforests.


Why are we failing to act in the best interest of the entire planet?


We must stop them if we can, but we’re running out of time.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

~ Dylan Thomas

Can we act decisively enough and quickly enough to save ourselves?  That’s the 64 million dollar question boys and girls.  I hope that we can at least go down acting like we care.



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    • OPOL on October 21, 2007 at 8:57 pm
  1. What further words than the 10,000/per image plus?  Masterful.

  2. with a former NASA scientist is nearly overwhelming (I won’t quibble therefore I won’t get quashed).

    Thanks for this awesome essay OPOL.

    And, thanks for including Kurt Vonnegut as one of the Great Teachers–he always has been for me.

  3. It is easy to see how people can be fooled into thinking of the planet as endless and undestroyable.

    From space we can see just how fragile and perilous our situation really is. A tiny island of life in a vast, vast see of cold and black.

    Without humans, things are in balance.

    Only humans can imperil that balance.

    We can either learn to live within the balance….or destroy this small pocket of life we have been miraculously ‘given.’

    Seems an easy choice to me.

    • Diane G on October 21, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    that nearly everyone on the planet has seen images like these, and yet so few get it or care.

    I hope this beautiful essay opens one heart today.  Even one!

    That IS living the lessons.  🙂

    • RiaD on October 21, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    and I have a question for you…is it possible that if we could get far enough away, the perspective would be…this whole vast biosphere is, in all actuality.. just an electron of some atom of some immense vastness…that we’re the teenytiniest bit…the part we haven’t even found, much less named…of an electron…

    …and that the choices each creature made to evolve…to stay in the ooze or crawl out…go into the trees or stay on the ground…that these choices, this ‘free will’, are evolution in it’s teenytiniest part?

    …and that those beings who used free will & made choices for the good of all survived & evolved?

    If this planet dies… will it be one electron too few in the atom so that it dies and so does the immense vastness that we can hardly grasp the idea of?

    • RiaD on October 21, 2007 at 10:16 pm
    • Pluto on October 21, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    All the top stories on the front page are about the environment — an issue that can narrowly reduced to simple overpopulation. But we knew that for certain 100 years ago (at least those of us who can do math).

    I’ve wondered my whole life what kind of narrative people run through their minds when they reproduce? I mean, about bringing a life you love overwhelmingly into a dying species onto a planet with severely limited resources.

    I confess I have never had the instinct to biologically reproduce — but if I did I would be insane with worry (and anticipated grief) for my offspring. (I know that because I am freaked out about the future for my pooties. Seriously — they even have their own Trust Funds.)

    I remember when I used to ask this question of people a long time ago — and they would say — “Oh, the kids will figure that out. We trust technology.

    Do people still think like that?

    Or is there a new narrative? Like “Shit Happens” perhaps?

  4. …not xshock & awex.  No!

    Beautiful, profound, inspiring.  sending on to friends…

  5. Recommended you over at Dkos.

    Also, Al Gore talks specifically about that first picture of earth in An Inconvenient Truth. It is the last picture ever taken of earth from space….(that we know about and has been made public).

    Perhaps it is because the earth’s atmosphere now appears entirely different from space.

    Just a thought.

    • TheRef on October 22, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    the cosmic equivalent of one electron flowing down the earthly pipes of the Internet …not very significant to the power that controls the universe. Had we the power at some point to control our own destiny, we surely have now squandered much of that option. It seems that our future is headed to the bit bucket of our solar system and hence, to cosmic oblivion. Hopefully, the next experiment with life will include a species that is more brain to go with our earthling developed, dim-witted brawn.

  6. Another great diary, OPOL.

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