When it comes to science my brother is the aficionado in our family. I can’t count how many times he’s begun a long explanation of this phenomenon or that theory only to be stopped halfway through and told: “Seth, layman’s terms please.”
So, yes, when it comes to Seth and me, he’s a bit more left-brain and I’m a bit more right. But that doesn’t mean that this week I wasn’t in awe of the Pluto fly-by.
You see, my scientific interests (as casual as they may be) have always rested in what is down below (rocks) and what is high above (stars).
I have been known to stop dead in my tracks on my way into the house at night so that I can marvel at the myriad of stars above. As dazzling as they are mysterious, stars are somehow both a testament to how tiny we truly are in this ever-expanding universe and also a reminder that though we might be small we are still one piece of a sprawling, interconnected puzzle.
Now our place in that puzzle has become a little bigger. We have explored a little further, discovered a little more. We have visited the farthest of the classical planets in our solar systems. (Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet in 2006.)
The closest image of Pluto we have ever received was released by NASA on Tuesday. According to USA Today, the New Horizons spacecraft later collected data, during which time it had no contact with Earth.
USA Today further reports that Tuesday night cheers erupted among the New Horizons team as “they received the ‘call home’ from the spacecraft and learned everything went as planned.”
The newspaper further summarizes the spacecraft and its team’s journey: Launched in January 2006, the New Horizons spacecraft set out to take the world’s closest and most-detailed image of Pluto. From Pluto being demoted from a full-fledged planet to a dwarf planet in August 2006 to various technological hiccups with the spacecraft throughout its journey, members of the New Horizons team had their fair share of challenges.
But, obstacles or not, the spacecraft reached its destination and we did what humans do best: We made history.
A separate USA Today article adds that nine mementos traveled aboard New Horizons to the dwarf planet (a nod to when Pluto was once the ninth planet in our solar system).
Among the items was a two-inch aluminum capsule containing some of the ashes of Clyde W. Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.
So, in many ways this exploration to Pluto – this desire to learn more about just one of space’s many mysteries – began 85 years ago.
After all, we have never been content with “good enough.” In every area of life we have always striven for better: government, art, medicine, cuisine, business (just to name a few).
And that insatiable drive in the field of science has now taken us billions of miles from our home.
I can’t help but think back to the second grade when I was in my mom’s class and first learning about our solar system. Back then, Pluto was still a planet and included in my mom’s memory hook: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles.
I never would have thought then that we would one day make contact with “Pickles” (Pluto).
Even social media is buzzing with Pluto pride. It’s nice to see something on my Facebook newsfeed that isn’t simply fodder for heated (and often spiteful) political debates. (Is it just me, or does there seems to be a lot of that lately?)
It’s nice to see something instead that connects us. Something that shows us advancing together.
Because goodness knows we seem to find new fodder every day for divisions, rather than fellowship. New ways to label ourselves, to make our differences all the more stark.
But not today.
Today as I scroll through Facebook I see friends sharing Pluto’s newest photo, and one friend saying how she hopes one day to be a part of a team involved in a similar mission.
Of course, there are witty observations, too. (What would the internet be without some humor?)
Former “Star Trek” actor George Takei posted: “Nasa’s New Horizons completed a historic fly-by of Pluto. I’m in love. In a Pluto-nic way, of course.”
On Twitter, @XploreDeepSpace parodied The Proclaimers song by Tweeting: “I would fly 3 billion miles… and I would fly 3 billion more!”
Three billion miles … what a mind-boggling accomplishment. Who would have guessed that we could have ever reached such a goal?
Which just begs the simple, but extraordinary question: What’s next?
So, humanity, what is next? The answer is up to us. And isn’t that, perhaps, the most remarkable thing of all?
Reach Sarah Allen at 937-393-3456, ext. 1680, or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.