UK space journalist Sarah Cruddas recently called our solar system “average” while arguing for the importance of space exploration on Big Picture Science podcast (episode “Space: Why Go There?”). Many believe ours, one of thousands, is just another unremarkable system with a sun and planets. We may be one of many but our solar system is anything but average. It seems uniquely created to foster life, intelligent life, that can appreciate its qualities.
Let’s work outward in. The outer planets and the asteroid belt block most space debris that would cause considerable damage to Earth, our moon, and the inner planets if they ever got through. The outer planets’ gravitational pull balances the sun’s to keep the asteroid belt more or less in place.
Earth is uniquely situated among the inner planets to get just the right amount of sun to support life without burning off all the water. The planet’s rotation makes life sustainable on it nearly everywhere.
In addition, the gravitational pull of our moon affects the oceans which create weather, making more life possible by growing plants that drive the carbon life cycle. The Earth has just the right gravity to harness the moon.
Earth’s unique atmosphere both holds water and air in and burns up most space debris that makes it past the asteroid belt. It’s a robust and beautiful shield that no other planet in the galaxy has. I don’t think we’ve yet found another planet blessed with such a shield.
A wide variety of life and environmental conditions creates a diverse food source and specialized life forms which thrive in those niches. Examples include:
- microbes that live around deep-sea vents,
- eyeless life forms in underwater caves devoid of sunlight
- specialized bacteria that prefer butt cracks to feet
Many life forms have cones in their eyes to perceive colors. In addition to helping us find food and avoid poisonous plants, this ability allows us to appreciate a rainbow, a sunset, and the lush greenery of a forest. Who doesn’t feel joy and awe looking at Christmas lights and fireworks.
Colors, smells, and sounds affect mood and memory, evoking a spectrum of feelings. We are literally put together to marvel at our world.
Something in the human brain causes us to explore, question, appreciate, and invent – all possible because of the unique qualities of our solar system. It is anything but average. Even a science peon like me can see that.
Marvel at the perfection of a ray of sunlight illuminating a dew drop on a leaf instead of burning you to a crisp. It is amazing and you are meant to notice.
The next time some fool says we’re nothing special, it’s just an “average” solar system, you can politely disagree with a sackful of reasons this is the best damn solar system around.