The dreamers got there first. In
their minds eye, the galaxy was littered with worlds, some living and some dead.
Only gravity and crude technology kept us Earthbound. Astronomers have caught up
with the vision; after decades of trying, they have discovered hundreds of planets
beyond the solar system.
Earth is a spaceship. Living quietly
in a house we trace a corkscrew motion through space as we spin and orbit the Sun.
On an even more gigantic scale we conduct a circuit of the Milky Way each quarter
billion years, dipping in and out of the star fields of the disk. The first astronauts
to orbit the Earth experienced the shock of the new: a small watery planet set against
a void. Distant twins of Earth are unnoticed, fireflies next to the floodlights
of their parent stars. Astronomers found exoplanets by stealth, detecting the periodic
stretching and squashing of the light waves from the star as the planet tugs it
around like an unruly dog on a leash. We have found clones of Jupiter and clones
of Neptune and Uranus, and clones of Earth are only a decade away.
Earth is an ark. We know enough
about the harshness of space to suspect that the bounty of our biosphere may be
special. As we venture out gingerly into space, it will be on multi-generational
arks, with passengers willing to take a one-way trip to an unknown future. Our destiny
in space is fueled by technology and the exponential rise in computation. Space
probes are just extensions of ourselves, projections of our eyes and ears. We are
exploring our backyard for now, but these robotic probes will some day travel on
the fleet feet of anti-matter. They will build replicas of themselves by mining
asteroids and fanning out across the galaxy. It will almost be as if we are there,
because they are our creations, our children.
When the first human adventurers
descend on a remote terrestrial planet, nobody knows what they will find: a metallic
sea, or a landscape of pure crystal, or life without carbon. They will be satisfying
a primal human itch, just as when our ancestors roamed from Siberia to Patagonia
in a scant few thousand years.
About the Artist
Heather Green is a graduate student in the College of Fine Arts at the University
of Arizona and a second generation Tucsonan. Her current work is informed by her
lifelong relationship with the headland of La Cholla near Puerto Peņasco, Mexico,
a passion for old science books, and her love of the natural world. She has designed
exhibits about sustainable fisheries and materials for conservation initiatives,
and is currently developing a virtual museum about La Cholla.