The reality is that nothing, not here on Earth, or in the vastness of space, is truly independent. If we’ve learned anything in the past three years it is that, despite all desires born from any number of rationales, we continuously impact each other regardless of distance, race, or nationality.
Benjamin Franklin said it some 250 years ago when his fledgling country, seeking redress from another, needed its citizens to be very interdependent if all were to survive. Franklin wrote, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
It was true then, and nothing has changed. Okay, so that’s not all that remarkable. What recently caught my eye, though, was new research that shows that young stars, along with their rapidly developing planetary disks, are rather just like people. Despite the vastness, the enormity of every nebula in every galaxy in a universe of billions of galaxies, individual stars interact with other stars leaving all a bit different, affected by forces that transcend any semblance of good or evil or political ideology.
Stars are born within clouds of gas. As the gas condenses, or collapses, a mass begins to grow. As it does, gravity provides a key assist, drawing even more matter to the protostar. Finally, under intense pressure, hydrogen atoms begin to fuse into helium, a process that creates an abundance of light and energy and affects the development of the nascent planetary system surrounding the star.
This is how our own solar system came to be. Hot solar wind from our newborn sun blew away icy ammonia and methane gasses, leaving behind heavier materials that coalesced into the inner rocky planets. Further out, the lighter compounds survived, leaving us with the gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
We now certainly know that star birth is not solitary. Multiple stars form simultaneously within those huge, dense gas clouds. The great nebula in Orion is an example of this. Images from the Webb Telescope of the most studied and photographed nebula in our galaxy prove that radiation from one star can prevent a second star from forming nearby, while simultaneously depositing material that allows another to form further away. It appears to be an endless cycle that has been in motion for many billions of years.
We now also know that once a planetary disk begins to take shape around a star, the radiation from that star not only dictates the type of planets that will emerge, but may also impact the planetary disks of nearby stars. The finding: stellar siblings play an integral role in so much of what we find in the sky. Like us, planets can take their forms, their characteristics, from multiple sources.
For me, the sky has always been a mirror of life on Earth. That we are influenced by our brothers and sisters is no mystery. Conversely, though we sometimes think we’re well insulated from “others,” it really is clear that what happens in China or Ukraine or in California or just up the block in Tucson affects our health, gas prices, and the quality and quantity of what we eat.
The late John Denver wrote in “Calypso” that we must learn from the sea to live on the land. I think what we learn from space is just as valuable. There’s a transparency in the knowledge we glean from modern technology that cannot be twisted or warped by someone’s agenda. Learning and accepting the interconnectedness of everything in space tells us, I think, that our best option on Earth is to lean into our interconnectedness.
The evening sky, mysterious as it may be, filled with countless objects as different and diverse as one can imagine, holds the answer to how we will successfully navigate the future of our own, tiny little place in an infinite universe. We’re dependent upon and connected to each other. We need to hang together.