Lying under the night sky one warm summer night, a fascinating thought entered my mind under the beautiful view. All the stars, most of those little jewels of light, lie in our own Milky Way galaxy. What is even more captivating is that many of those stars have planets orbiting them. With space exploration evolving constantly, the number of these worlds that could be like our own Earth is still not clear. Hardly ever giving this a thought, the perspective can change one’s entire mindset when looking at the night sky.
Moving even closer to our home, it makes me wonder how many people who see Mars in the night sky realize we may be looking at a world that humans step foot on in our lifetime. The same experience was true of looking up at the Moon prior to 1969. For many, the Apollo missions changed the whole perspective of the view, as humans have now landed there. What was foreign and unexperienced was now visited by humanity. Soon Artemis, as well as other ambitious space missions, will do the same, reinforcing this realization for a whole new generation.
The reverse also applies in the Overview Effect, which is a shift in perspective one has when seeing the Earth from space and in space. The view of the Apollo astronauts was vastly different from those who currently visit the International Space Station. Moon explorers got a great view of the whole Earth floating in the darkness of the universe, and some of their captured images released to the public even sparked movements for change on Earth.
Once humanity heads farther out toward Mars, that entire perspective will change again. Earth will become a small blue dot in the spacecraft window and then a point of light in the Martian sky. We can only imagine how this view will impact future explorers. What we can hope for is that much of humanity follows along on Earth, changing their views as they look up at Mars and at the pictures sent back by the explorers.
It is almost unimaginable what future shifts in humanity’s view of the universe will look like. The farther explorers venture, the more difficult it will be for the explorers to see home. Meanwhile, on Earth, observers will have to use a telescope to get a glimpse of the worlds others are visiting. Just imagine the first mission to Europa. While the space explorers look back at a tiny blue dot, those on Earth will have to use binoculars or even a telescope to see this world humans are visiting.
Getting caught up in everyday life, it is easy to forget these perspectives. Earth is just a tiny rock with the right ingredients for life, flying through a vast universe that is mostly unknown to us. Let’s hope that humanity looks back on where they started, as well as forward to where they are going.
Brooke Edwards is a lifelong space enthusiast turned science communicator. Brooke enjoys sharing the excitement of space exploration through her blog (A Brook(e) of Stars), social media, and outreach activities. She is passionate about the human experience of space exploration, both through the experience of the astronaut and of those on Earth.
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