On a really dark night, it’s rather easy to see an arm of the Milky Way stretch across the sky. Our spiral galaxy is estimated to hold somewhere between 100 to 400 billion stars, among them our sun, within its incredible expanse. A spaceship traveling 186,000 miles per second would take 100,000 years to go from one end to the other.
We now know that there are countless planets in our galaxy orbiting distant stars. Who knows when we’ll find that life exists in some form on one of these alien worlds? But for me, it really isn’t much of a question. I can’t begin to know what life elsewhere looks like. Indeed, I certainly have no proof that it exists anywhere other than on our own tiny planet. So let’s put it another way. I hope there’s life elsewhere. I hope it’s intelligent life. I hope it has figured out how to protect its environment and how to foster equality and good health among its population.
Closer to home, in Tucson there’s a steep and beautiful trail that begins at the edge of the parking lot of a world-class resort and ends, about six miles later, at the natural wonder called Window Rock. This hole in the rock formation along the ridge of the Santa Catalina Mountains can be seen with a keen eye from I-19 as one travels north into the city. I managed to hike to the Window many years ago and stood in the opening, imagining myself as a modern-day oracle.
Like everyone right now, though, my thoughts are often centered on the coronavirus and the pain it is causing. More than ever, I want to believe that there are Window Rocks all over our galaxy, places from where one can escape reality and revel in an unlimited imagination. I want to know that there are places that we push ourselves to reach and are then rewarded with unbelievable views and insight. Is it so hard to believe this could be true? Could anyone imagine that Jupiter, Saturn and Mars would form a line in the pre-daybreak sky as they did throughout April? Or, that Venus would shine like a diamond high in the western sky in the evening? This has been effortlessly within our reach. So, everything is possible in a galaxy like ours.
We’re surrounded by the surreal. Because we see such incredible things with our eyes, we know they are not science fiction or figments of our imagination. I believe there is life beyond Earth. I believe others are climbing mountains on unnamed worlds. And I hope, given what we’re going through on our own planet, that they’ve figured out a way to do it better.
But, right now, Earth and its viruses are all we have. And it’s more than enough. This month, Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the East after midnight and up to sunrise. In December the two giant planets will appear to be nearly on top of each other. Both will be viewable at the same time in a telescope’s field of view. So, we don’t have to escape anything; we don’t have to climb to Window Rock in Tucson or in some city 50,000 light years away on a giant planet circling its own sun.
There’s no virus in the darkness of the open spaces right near our homes. Go outside and enjoy what’s right there for the taking.