Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Speck in the Universe

There was a time, I have to remember, that Pluto was a speck in the universe.

A speck.

But no more. Because, as Kleinman said, space is small; only the planets are big.

And Pluto is huge. As much surface area as the nation of Russia, which swallowed tens of thousands of men into the gulags of Siberia, which took the blast of Tunguska and spared the world that hardly knew what had happened.

And Charon has on it chasms larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon, with the surface area of Texas, but with no Texans there to wear hats, drill for oil, or to remember the Alamo.

Pluto is huge. As Clyde Tombaugh knew it would be.

When I was a boy, Pluto was a world of physics and geology. Physics that kept it in its misshapen orbit about the sun, geology influenced by the cold of space and the sparse energy the sun could cast its way.

Now it is a planet of history – though through the human view it is a history of hours as that spacecraft barreled by at fourteen kilometers a second. A second. And though it is but switching one set of arbitrary numbers for another, that is 8.7 miles per second. Five hundred twenty-one miles a minute. Or 31,284 miles per hour.

Pluto’s is a history, in human terms, written in mere hours.

As is the history of the moon of Earth. How long did the astronauts spend there, altogether, walking or hopping or roaming in their moon buggies? Not even eighty hours. Barely 3 ½ days, stretched over six Apollo missions.

Now the number is higher as space shrinks and the moons and planets grow ever larger. Countless hours now walked on the Moon, Mars, Titan, Europa, Ganeymede. Tenuous steps on the dark side of Mercury; ill-fated steps on the surface of Venus.

And there is me. The Hermit of Iapetus. Alone to walk here, where the cyanide dust falls from the open sky and from where – on Earth – I am but a speck on a speck orbiting a bright star. A star that once, to mankind, appeared to have ears that came and went.

I am a speck in the universe. And Pluto is not.

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