Tuesday, January 5, 2010

We are all living in a bubble.

The Solar System is protected by a helium and hydrogen bubble from cosmic radiation. Although scientists were previously aware of the existence of the heliosphere (the name for this bubble), they only recently discovered (or hypothesized depending on how you read the article) the bubble-like nature of the heliosphere, protecting our solar system on its journey through the universe.

The heliosphere is one of the many elements that allows our planet to sustain life in s safe and nourishing environment, and our knowledge of how it works is very recent and constantly being updated.

Some might say the existence of the heliosphere is evidence of a divine purpose. It could also be extraordinarily lucky, a statistical anomaly that among all the stars in the universe was bound to happen somewhere. Or it could be a typical characteristic of a solar system, something which just happens to coincide with sustainability of life, like heat and light.

Either way it is damn neat. It is amazing that our ecosystem depends on the smallest changes, that we live and die by molecules in our air and water. And it also depends on a bubble of protection that is so big it keeps cosmic radiation away from earth despite being 75 to 90 astronomical units from the sun (i.e. approx. 7 to 8.4 billion miles).

Although, the scale can be intimidating at times it can also be comforting. Thinking about how small we are in comparison to the size of our solar system or galaxy or universe, can make you feel insignificant: 1 of 6.7 billion instead of just 1.

But think of it the other way. There is a wall of hydrogen and helium that is 6 to 7 billion miles away that keeps cosmic radiation from reaching you (as well as everyone else), which means you are connected to and have something in common with everything inside that bubble. You are not just connected to the water you drink and the food you eat on earth, you are connected to every other body in the solar system, even the distant Pluto (albeit a tenuous connection given the International Astronomical Union's revocation of Plutos' planetary status).

That connection is so awe-inspiring that I hope Pluto and I can still be friends.