By Andrew Lam | 2013-2-19 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
Illustration by Zhou Tao
Photo by Zhou Tao
A METEOR estimated by NASA to weigh 10 tons exploded Friday morning over Russia's Ural Mountains region and its shockwave caused injuries to over 1,000 people. It took out windows and walls in the city of Chelyabinsk. And it temporarily shifted the conversation here on earth to talk of the heavens.
"We can find these objects, we can track their motions, and we can predict their orbits many years into the future," noted Robert Naeye of Sky and Telescope magazine in an essay called, "Lessons from the Russian Meteor Blast."
The Russian parliament is also keen on the idea. And on CNN, Lawrence Krauss, professor of physics and director of the Origin Project, talked about how human technology has advanced to the point of predicting and deflecting oncoming meteorites that could cause the earth "significant damage."
Age of empyrean
So welcome to the age of empyrealization - an age of man's increasing awareness and interactions with the heavens (from Greek empyrean).
Unlike the dinosaurs, we have, in effect, become active agents in changing our destiny.
A giant meteor wiped out 90 percent of life on earth 65 million years ago because the dinosaurs didn't collectively create a missile shield to deflect the meteor. Humans, on the other hand, with our orbiting telescopes and space probes, and our growing awareness of the threat from space, can track large foreign objects coming millions miles away and are talking about collectively deflecting those that could do us harm.
That man has changed his home planet is now well accepted. Long before the industrial revolution and the age of climate change, humans have significantly impacted earth, at least according to climate scientist William Ruddiman.
In his book titled "Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate," he claimed that there is significant evidence that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been rising since the earliest beginnings of agriculture. There is strong evidence, too, that a mini-ice age was averted some 5,000 years ago due to the rise in methane caused by the proliferation of rice paddy agriculture in Asia.
Unlike our ancestors, however, increasingly we are aware that human actions have an impact on the entire planet and beyond.
In fact, we have been interacting with the heavens longer than most have thought. Think of it in term of radio waves. According to Adam Grossman, "mankind has been broadcasting radio waves into deep space for about a hundred years now... That, of course, means there is an ever-expanding bubble announcing Humanity's presence to anyone listening in the Milky Way. This bubble is astronomically large (literally), and currently spans approximately 200 light years across."
Or think of it in term of our orbiting trash. According to NASA, more than 500,000 pieces of debris, or space junk, are tracked as they orbit planet Earth.
They all travel at speeds up to 17,500 mph, fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft. While some fall to earth, others exit into outer space.
In other words, the cosmos might rain meteors on earth, but humans too have already interacted with the universe by sending manmade debris into space.
Our destiny is in outer space. In a sense, globalization is but child's play compared to empyrealization, where man now recognizes earth as existing in an open system with the rest of the cosmos and that he is interacting with, and increasingly, having an effect upon it.