What a way to start off 2019. The nuclear space probe, New Horizons, has just reported back on the most distant object ever visited by one of our probes. That object is over four billion miles away from Earth and one billion miles beyond the orbit of Pluto. It has been named Ultima Thule.
“We’re here to tell you that last night, overnight, the United States spacecraft New Horizons conducted the farthest exploration in the history of humankind, and did so spectacularly,” Alan Stern, who leads the New Horizons mission, said during a press conference after the flyby. “Thousands of operations onboard the spacecraft had to work correctly in order for us to be able to tell you this, and now know that it all did.”
As reported in the New York Times, “That is the latest triumph in a journey that started in 2006, when the spacecraft, New Horizons, launched on a mission to explore Pluto. Thirteen years and more than four billion miles later, New Horizons has provided humanity’s first glimpse of a distant fragment that could be unchanged from the solar system’s earliest days.”
Sixty-five years ago, when I was in the eighth grade, I read the book One, Two, Three, Infinity by George Gamow, a cosmologist and theoretical physicist; that book got me hooked on science and science fiction. Gamow presented one of the clearest explanations and implications of the Big Bang Theory available then, and he opened my eyes to enormity of the creation. His book prompted me to take a two unit elective class on the Theory of Relativity my senior year in college. I have since followed Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, Bertrand Russell, and others as they have speculated about the vast cosmos we call home.
William Yates once said: “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
I’d like to think that the announcement about Ultima Thule is a portent of the many exciting events and discoveries that await us in 2019. It is hard to predict the future; back in 1968 scientists tried to predict what might happen in 2018. Some of what they forecast missed the mark by a long way. For instance, they said we would develop a universal, common language; no way, of course, but we have developed coding which is close to a universal language. The prognosticators did get it right with the “pocket computers” that all of us would carry. They did forecast you could do lots of research without leaving home, by just using the Internet which was under development at the time of the forecast; now of course we take Google and other search engines for granted.
We do not know what we will discover in 2019, but we are sure to be surprised by a lot of revelations about our history, our universe, the issue of climate change, the impact of tariffs, medical breakthroughs, dealing with droughts, and other untold possibilities. We might even see the President’s tax returns.
How do we prepare for surprises? I guess if there are surprises in our lives, they cannot be specifically prepared for, but we can decide how we respond to them. We can shut our eyes in disbelief or we can embrace them and incorporate the energy they bring into our lives.
One of my fondest memories is watching the astonishing wonder in my grandson’s eyes as he looked upon display at the planetarium. I hope that this new year will open that sense of wonder in all of us, that we can see things anew, and that we can take in all that we can see.
A friend of mine posted this on Facebook: The flat earth society has members all around the globe! In some ways we may be like those people; I hope not.
My hope is that 2019 will bring lots of surprises, that those surprises will energize and invigorate us so that we can more fully enjoy our lives within this marvelous creation that we call the universe.
I remember William Blake’s poem that included this statement: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour.”
Would that we could all do that.
Joe Harrop is a retired educator with more than 30 years of service to the North State. He can be reached at [email protected]