The Roots of Influence and Inspiration - Part V: Phasing of the Earth

Written by Sam Rawlings on Saturday the 9th of October 2010

This journal is the fifth in a series of pieces I expect to write about those certain 'elements' of life that inspire and influence my writing. I think it's important to acknowledge these elements, as essentially they represent the root of our craft, they are the seeds that precede the fruit of our labour, the 'components' without which our thoughts, our images, our music, our words, simply would not exist.

I hope you enjoy my ramblings and in return I would love to hear all about the things that inspire and influence you. After all, "without sharing, the imagination becomes little more than an echo of itself."

Part Five: Phasing of the Earth

This month I will be taking a back seat, and instead of filling this journal with my own words, I'd like to present to you an article I discovered years ago.  Sadly I do not know who wrote it, but all the same, I find its simple connotations so inspiring that I would like to share it with you.

Our planet, our solar system, our milky way galaxy, the entire universe, the fact that somehow, all of this, absolutely everything, from the very small to the incomprehensibly large , the fact that every element of existence  fits into a single  enveloping cosmos... that to me is a wonder of the most breathtaking, magical, fantastical, heart stopping brilliance .

We are all, every single person, made of the same matter; the same matter as that of the ground beneath our feet, the oceans, the fish, the animals, the plants, the clouds, the Sun, the Moon, the stars in our sky. We have evolved from the same matter that built the billions of solar systems, that built the entire universe. We are representatives of that same matter which, all those billions of light years ago, exploded forth from The Big Bang. From amongst all of that chaos, chance has conspired and so we have emerged...

The following article merely skims the surface of this vast topic, but still, I feel that it does effectively put things into perspective. It conjures the vastness of existence, and most importantly, the sense of just how incredibly fortunate we are 'to be' at all.

Article: The Phasing of the Earth, by unknown

Phase One

We like to think highly of ourselves... in particular, but also in general. The human race did this, the human race did that. We like to propose that we could someday 'go', 'become', 'explore'... The trouble is, most people never truly realise how insignificant the Earth is within the grand scheme of the Universe.

If we compare Earth's size with that of some of the most important celestial bodies we have discovered so far, we appear nothing but ants swarming around in our own little ant nest under the umbrella of a tree - busying ourselves with daily chores, going to work every day... It's probable that most of us almost never pause to consider the immensity of the wider jungle that surrounds us.

This is not simply a philosophical proposal. I am not merely filling up space here, and to prove it, let's look at the size of our Earth compared to that of some of the most famous planets and stars that we know of.

Phase Two

Earth is the third planet from the Sun and is the largest of the terrestrial planets in the Solar System, in both diameter and mass. With an equatorial diameter of 12.7 million kilometers, (7.8 million miles), it's two times larger than Mars and almost three times larger than Mercury, the smallest planet in the solar system. Venus is the only planet that comes close, but at only 0.95% of Earth's diameter, we're still the largest. If we don't considerPluto, now degraded from its planet status, that's pretty much all we can brag about: our planet is larger than three of the planets in the system (See Image One).

Now, let us not forget that we've got four more planets to go. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth and 3.8 times larger, Uranus four times larger than us and then the gas giants come: Saturn is 9.4 times larger than our planet, but the champion title goes to Jupiter, the giant of our not so huge solar system, more than 11 times larger than Earth and two and a half times as massive as all of the other planets in our solar system combined (See Image Two).

Impressive, huh? Now, let's get to see how small we are compared to some of the stars out there...

Phase Three

You probably know by now that we're no match for our Sun. Now, the figures get complicated. The fact that the Earth and other matter, including other planets, asteroids, meteoroids, comets and dust, make up for 0.2 percent of the mass of the entire system is kind of scary and trying to express the size of the size is an even greater challenge: the diameter of the Sun is 109 times larger than Earth's, making us look like a spot on its surface. What the heck, even some sunspots are larger than our not-so-big-any more planet (See Image 3).

Phase Four

If you thought our Sun was big, you're wrong. It's just a medium-sized star. Astronomers estimate there are about 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way alone. Outside that, there are millions upon millions of other galaxies also! Let's take Sirius, for instance. The brightest star in the night-time sky, located in the constellation Canis Major, it can be seen from almost every inhabited region of the Earth's surface. Any clues on how large it is? The white dwarf is half the mass of the Sun packed into a volume roughly equal to the Earth.

That's something to smile about, we're about the same size as dwarf star. Hooray! Now, if we look at Pollux, another of the brightest stars in the night sky, our enthusiasm suddenly wears off. Its diameter is 16 times that of our Sun, so there's no point in mentioning that of the Earth.

Now, let's go to some really heavy stuff: Arcturus, the third brightest star in the night sky, located in the constellation Botes, is a red giant star, at least 110 times brighter than the Sun and 32 times larger in diameter (see Image Four).

Phase Five

Entering the heavyweight class of the known Universe, I present to you Betelgeuse, the second brightest star in the constellation Orion, a red supergiant and one of the largest known to man. If we replaced the Sun with Betelgeuse, its outer surface would be somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. Is that big enough for you?

No? All right then. Here's the Titanic of all stars, Antares, a class M supergiant star. 10,000 times more luminous than our Sun, it is also almost 18 times its mass. The diameter is truly impressive: 1,400 times that of our Sun, which makes the Earth look like a flea on its surface. That's how small we really are (See Image Five).

Phase Six

Nothing really proves how insignificant our planet is in the sea of stars and dust that makes up the known Universe, than the famous 'Pale Blue Dot' photograph of the Earth, taken by Voyager 1, then located four billion miles away (See Image Six).

This picture shows Earth as a dot suspended in a beam of sunlight, situated against the backdrop of the Solar System. The saddest thing is that voyager was only its vantage point on the edge of the solar system.

I leave you with a quote from astronomer Carl Sagan, who wrote a book inspired by the phot

"We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you know, everyone you love, everyone you've ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines. Every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

To end, I'd like to draw your attention toward the words of Hypatia, herself a truely inspirational figure:

'Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than to not think at all.' - Hypatia of Alexandria

 A note on Hypatia, by Carl Sagan:
"Only once before in our history was there the promise of a brilliant scientific civilization. Beneficiary of the Ionian Awakening, it had its citadel at the Library of Alexandria, where 2,000 years ago the best minds of antiquity established the foundations for the systematic study of mathematics, physics, biology, astronomy, literature, geography and medicine. We build on those foundations still. The Library was constructed and supported by the Ptolemys, the Greek kings who inherited the Egyptian portion of the empire of Alexander the Great. From the time of its creation in the third century B.C. until its destruction seven centuries later, it was the brain and heart of the ancient world.

The last scientist who worked in the Library was a mathematician, astronomer, physicist and the head of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy -- an extraordinary range of accomplishments for any individual in any age. Her name was Hypatia. She was born in Alexandria in 370. At a time when women had few options and were treated as property, Hypatia moved freely and unselfconsciously through traditional male domains. By all accounts she was a great beauty. She had many suitors but rejected all offers of marriage. The Alexandria of Hypatia's time -- by then long under Roman rule -- was a city under grave strain. Slavery had sapped classical civilization of its vitality. The growing Christian Church was consolidating its power and attempting to eradicate pagan influence and culture. Hypatia stood at the epicenter of these mighty social forces. Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, despised her because of her close friendship with the Roman governor, and because she was a symbol of learning and science, which were largely identified by the early Church with paganism In great personal danger, she continued to teach and publish, until, in the year 415, on her way to work she was set upon by a fanatical mob of Cyril's parishioners. They dragged her from her chariot, tore off her clothes, and armed with abalone shells, flayed her flesh from her bones. Her remains were burned, her works obliterated, her name forgotten. Cyril was made a saint.

The glory of the Alexandrian Library is a dim memory. Its last remnants were destroyed soon after Hypatia's death. It was as if the entire civilization had undergone some self-inflicted brain surgery, and most of its memories, discoveries, ideas and passions were extinguished irrevocably. The loss was incalculable. In some cases, we know only the tantalizing titles of the works that were destroyed. In most cases, we know neither the titles nor the authors. We do know that of the 123 plays of Sophocles in the Library, only seven survived. One of those seven is Oedipus Rex. Similar numbers apply to the works of Aeschylus and Euripides. It is a little as if the only surviving works of a man named William Shakespeare were Coriolanus and A Winter's Tale, but we had heard that he had written certain other plays, unknown to us but apparently prized in his time, works entitled Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.

Tags for this post: part5, PhasingoftheEarth, inspiration, influence, samrawlings.

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Title: Carl Sagan - Pale Blue Dot
By: CarlSaganPortal
Lazy Says: Carl Sagan - Pale Blue Dot

I agree - Sagan's voice seduced me during 'Cosmos' - he explained is such a way that Patrick Moore never could. Sagan is sadly missed.
Glenn B Fleming Glenn B Fleming27/10/10 11:02am

Carl Sagan's Cosmos should be shown in school. What a fine fellow
Conway Conway08/10/10 12:37pm
We thought long and hard about it and after much deliberation, various conferences, meetings and discussions we have decided to shut down and close comments for this particular Journal (sorry about that).
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