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I was out in my front yard earlier this week, staring up at the night sky, and feeling impossibly humbled by the scale and the grandeur of the universe.
In case you missed it, Venus and Jupiter are appearing close together in the western sky in an event called a conjunction, according to CNN.
Such celestial phenomena happen frequently. But that frequency doesn’t make these moments any less striking or awe-inspiring.
To stare at those two dots, glimmering in an early evening sky, with the moon standing sentinel in another corner of the heavens, is an instant refresher course on our own place in the cosmos. And it should make us think twice about where we choose to focus our energy and attention.
Venus, the brighter of the two planets in the night sky this week, is our nearest planetary neighbor. But it is still a staggering 38 million miles away – even when it passes closest to us, according to NASA.
And while the planet named for the Roman goddess of love is sometimes called “Earth’s Twin,” there’s nothing remotely hospitable about it.
The planet’s surface temperature ranges from about 820 degrees Fahrenheit to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service. But with its vanished oceans and violently volcanic surface, “there is much, it would seem, that [Venus] can teach us,” NASA noted.
Jupiter, which appears smaller in this celestial waltz, is 365 million miles from the Earth at its closest point. It takes the gas giant, which is 11 times wider than our planet, nearly 12 years to complete one orbit around the sun.
It’s entirely unlikely that Jupiter harbors life. But one of its moons, Europa, likely has an ocean under its icy crust, according to NASA, where it’s possible there could be life.
I say all this because, even as the Webb telescope sends back images that have exponentially expanded our knowledge of the cosmos, where we’ve come from, and might be headed, we’re still currently the only intelligent life in our galactic neighborhood – and even the evidence of that intelligence seems open to debate.
Consider, for instance, that nearly 34 million of our fellow citizens lived in households that struggled with food insecurity, or lacked access to a nutritious diet in 2021, according to Food Research & Action Center data. Of that number, 1 in 8, or 12.5% of households with children, couldn’t buy enough food for their families, according to that same data.
On the other side of our ridiculously small world, more than 8,000 Ukrainian civilians have died in the first year of a war of choice waged by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. And right now, at least, there appears to be no quick path to peace.
And it’s not like it’s the only conflict right now – it’s just the one that’s grabbing most of the headlines. According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker, there are currently 27 ongoing conflicts worldwide – all of varying degrees of cruelty.
Back here at home, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee appears set to sign a bill banning drag performances in public and in front of children, as well as another piece of legislation banning gender affirming care for minors in that state, The Guardian reported.
That Lee will press on with signing the bills, even as he has dismissed a viral photo of him dressed in drag while a high school student, as a “light-hearted tradition,” has only added to the galactic cruelty of the ongoing war waged against the dignity of transgender and LGBTQ Americans.
We endanger ourselves in other ways, turning our back on the science underlying such public health threats as the COVID-19 pandemic, making us less ready for the next one when it comes. And history teaches us that it will. By 2050, the sea level along U.S. coastlines could rise by as much as a foot, leading to catastrophic flooding, according to NASA.
Given all that, the logical answer is for us to set aside our divisions, to work together to solve the intractable problems that have plagued humanity for most of its existence, to tear down the walls that divide of us instead of looking for excuses to erect new ones, and to ensure that there is a habitable and peaceful planet for future generations to inherit.
It’s an undeniably idealistic conceit, I admit, but one I harbor nonetheless. And it’s still not too late.
Because Jupiter and Venus will continue their endless – and ageless – transit across the night sky whether we’re here to look at it or not.
But it would be nice if we were.
Copyright 2023 John L. Micek, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.