I recently came across an elementary school science homework assignment.
One of the questions was: “What is your favourite planet and why?”
I thought this was a really fun way of teaching kids about the solar system. So, out of curiosity, I very unscientifically polled a bunch of very unscientific online polls.
It is interesting how poorly Earth does on these polls. It rarely ranks higher than number two and one showed it at sixth.
My hypothesis is that people kind of unconsciously rule Earth out, along the lines of, ‘Well, of course, Earth is my favourite planet, it’s my home, it sustains my life.’
But it’s also familiar, while others are so exotic.
Saturn, for example, is almost always number one. Of course, it has its rings. When I was a little kid, it was unique in that.
As our solar system exploration technology has improved and our efforts have intensified, however, we learned Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune also have rings.
When I was a little kid, Saturn had four moons. Ask a child that question these days and you’ll get the answer 53 (confirmed) or 82 (29 are still under investigation). And some of those moons are arguably even cooler than the planet. Titan, for example, the largest (and bigger than Mercury) would probably be a planet in its own right if it wasn’t a satellite of Saturn.
But Earth should be everyone’s favourite planet. Talk about unique and exotic.
Last week, the eulachon (a.k.a. ooligan etc.) were running in the Skeena. I have to admit, I was unfamiliar with this phenomenon. Millions of small fish migrating upstream like salmon in this mighty river to spawn, creating a field day for seals, eagles, whales, dolphins and other amazing creatures this incredible planet supports.
It puts me in mind of working in Labrador. In the coastal inlets of the Labrador Sea when the tide rolled out it would take the Arctic char with it. The orcas (yes, there are also ‘killer whales’ on the east coast) would come in the other way, feasting on the char. Whales signalled it was also a good time for two geologists to throw a line in the water for a quick and delicious meal.
Familiarity does tend to breed apathy, though. As an example, last week, I realized just how lucky I was to live in northwest B.C.
I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye while watching the eulachon and when I turned to look, I thought, ‘oh, it’s just a bald eagle.’
Just a bald eagle.
Our ‘pale blue dot,’ as Carl Sagan famously mused about a photograph taken by the Voyageur 1 space probe from six billion kilometres away, may be inconsequential in the cosmic scheme of things, but it is everything to us.
“Look again at that dot,” Sagan wrote. “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.
“On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.
“The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
That is not something to be taken for granted.
Thom Barker is the editor of The Interior News in Smithers, B.C.