The Time and Space of Humanity

Just over 4.5 billion years ago, our local solar system started forming. In the last 0.2% of that span of galactic time, against all odds, a species arose with the capacity for reason and the desire to dream beyond their little planet– to stare defiantly into the reaches of space, and wonder.

If the age of our solar system were 1 hour, we’ve been here less than 8 seconds. And despite the struggles that have consumed large parts of our history, and continue to do so, there’s no doubt that on this day, there is one thing that unites the members of humanity under its gaze– the total solar eclipse.

The Moon is almost 240,000 miles from Earth, and it will pass in front of the Sun, traveling at almost 2,000 mph in its tidally-locked orbit. In the prime region of its path, it will fully and perfectly eclipse the Sun, some 93,000,000 miles away. Light, the fastest thing in the known universe, travels at 186,000 miles/second from the Sun, reaching Earth in just over 8 minutes.

The Sun itself is middle-aged, and will live for another 5 billion years before dying a glorious and violent death, taking most of the immediate solar system with it.

How incredible, how strange, how humbling, to be a part of this young and wondrous species, to be able to look up knowing all this… and how much more humbling to realize that current estimates have calculated over 100,000,000,000 stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, and that there are roughly 10 trillion galaxies in the observable universe.

As you look up today, know that our Sun, the basis of all life on Earth, is one of a probable 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1 x 10^24) stars.

Our time on this planet has brought us to this point. The future of our species, of our fellow species, and of the place we all call home stands upon the edge of a knife. When the eclipse passes, after we’re all done talking about it, after we’ve gone to sleep, humanity will waken tomorrow with a faint memory, a whisper of something greater than ourselves. And work will resume. Conflict and struggle, hatred and violence will resume; ideology, irresponsibility, and pride will resume.

Yet so will the hope for peace, the love for our Earth and everything on it, and the call for a future built on the foundations of our better nature– the same one that took us to the Moon, and will take us beyond. As we speed through the vastness of space on this little speck of dust, we can’t help but wonder what’s out there, both at home and abroad in the universe.

Only time will tell what we’ll leave for future generations, what path they will have to take… and whether they will ever see the eclipse of humanity itself.

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