Tag Archives: space

22. Gravity

A friend of mine once said, “Gravity is my nemesis.”

Kudos to him for using one of the most bad-ass words in the dictionary, but also for bringing up a rather poignant observation: we are all fighting against gravity. Here we are, creatures on this spinning planet, constantly being held down by an invisible hand at the rate of approximately 9.8 meters per second squared. Granted, the alternative is terrifying and seems like something out of a scene from Inception, since without gravity we’d all go flinging out into the atmosphere like the toys of a child throwing a tantrum. The fact remains, however, that every day we’re alive, we’re weighted down, carrying this burden of space-time curvature. You feel it when your chair leans back a little too far. You feel it after a long shift at work. You feel it when you’re carrying groceries up a flight of stairs. You feel it, and you ignore it, because we can’t fight it. We send astronauts into space, yes, but even gravity knows we’ll have to come back down for air eventually.

The trouble with gravity, despite Einstein’s contributions, is that it’s still a mystery. When I’m asked if I know how gravity works, the first answer I give comes from some cobwebbed elementary school memory. “It’s, like, because of the way Earth spins,” I’d say. But that doesn’t make any sense at all. When you put an object on a surface and spin that surface, that object doesn’t stick around. So then another elementary school theory comes to mind… Maybe Newton’s “equal and opposite reaction” idea has something to do with this, meaning for as much energy that is used to throw people off of Earth, the same amount is being used to keep us down. But I don’t think it’s that simple.

There’s something bigger going on. Einstein theorized something like this: We’re all just objects with mass on a big blanket called The Universe and as our planetary vessels roll around, they sink into this fabric, and it is through this sinking that we are anchored to the ground.

Or something like that. He used more math.

The point is, we share a common battle. We don’t think about it a lot because we’re not airline pilots or astronauts, but sometimes when we look up at the birds or the stars, we have an inkling of dissatisfaction. Why not me? We wonder. In another light, gravity could equate to the paternal love of Mother Earth. She gives us food and shelter, while all the while keeping us tethered from the cold, lifeless void beyond the blue sky. Over time perhaps we start to feel smothered. We want to rebel against our parent planet and do our own thing. We want to smoke cigarettes in alleyways with hipster black holes and spend weekends with supernovas in the neon-glow of constellations. Mom won’t let us. Mom knows best. “No, dear, your little lungs couldn’t handle it.”

Some of us are okay with gravity. It keeps our world in order. Some of us view it as an enemy, like The Man who keeps us down. Others, like myself, see it as a mystery. But the most important thing about gravity is the fact that we all experience it all the time. No matter who or what you are, if you’re on this planet, you’re feeling it. Like it or not, we’re meant to be stuck here, and since there’s no feasible option for leaving Earth’s gravitational pull, we really ought to face the fact that we’re all being kept here together for some mysterious reason, and the sooner we stop bickering about oil or money or religion, maybe we can work together to figure out why.

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6. Mars

Just came across this video of Neil deGrasse going off about space travel, climate change, life, chimpanzees, and aliens, naturally. I’m usually not one to jump on a band wagon so quickly, but last night, half-asleep at two in the morning, I really liked this theory that life on Earth was spawned by rogue asteroid debris from an impact on the surface of Mars. He says early Mars had the same life-sustaining qualities that eventually formed on our planet, and some Mars-grown bacteria might’ve latched onto an Earth-bound chunk of space rock a few billion years back. KABLAM, life begins on Earth. It’s sort of neat to think that all the life on this planet was the result of a lucky accident.

In the morning, I thought a little more about this theory, and I found some holes.

If we’re all evolved spores from a Martian life-form, then where did the life on Mars come from? What asteroid brought the organisms to the surface of our neighboring red planet and where did that asteroid come from? It seems like another hollow theory when you think about it for long enough. You end up with the same questions and answers that lead to more questions. This is also my problem with the theories regarding the birth of the universe, both scientific and religious.

We came from a giant explosion. Who lit the fuse? We were created in seven days by God. Who made God?

(Insert other theory here, counter with similar roundabout question).

I don’t think we’re supposed to know. In some lights, this sucks. It would be cool to know how it all started. In another light, it’s more fulfilling to just recognize that you’re part of this big mystery. Don’t look up at the stars for the want of answers, but look up at the stars and know that you’re just as puzzling to them as they are to you. No one knows what the hell is going on in this wild, crazy universal party. We don’t even know who invited us to the party. We’re just here to drink beer, build the tallest skyscraper, and draw trees on paper. I’m sure if there is life on other planets in other galaxies, they’re doing pretty much the same thing.

Here’s the video of Neil deGrasse that I watched: