Thursday, March 27, 2008

Puny Earthlings

On several occasions this week, I found myself dealing with students discomfited by the universe. The Sun dying out was particularly perplexing for them.

"What will happen to us? What will we do?"

My reply was, "If we're still around in five billion years, we'll need an exit strategy." Truly, the students looked like I just killed their pets. The Greenhouse Effect also bothers them, but not in the "I should curtail my carbon emissions"-way.

"What will happen to the Earth if the runaway greenhouse effect happens?

"Um, nothing? The atmosphere will change, some living things will die as others flourish, and the rocky ball we live on will continue to orbit the Sun just fine. Oh, and the atmosphere has changed before."

Aiieee!

I showed a few of my favorite images: the Peekskill meteorite and the Chicago meteorite. Obviously, very few people were affected by these events, and thus they are considered to be of no consequence. My students did not consider these impacts to be trivial, and strangely, most had not heard of the possibility that an impact contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs. One student has now deemed my class "creepy."

Since I was a small child, I've spent much of my mental life in outer space, so I guess I've become used to being part of the universe, a vast and awesome place. Just a part - not in control, not special, not important. And just amazed that from this tiny little land-locked corner of the universe, we can look out and learn so much.

9 comments:

David Moles said...

Surely the answer to the greenhouse effect question is to show them some of the Venera 14 pictures?

Mike Jasper said...

"The average homeowner should expect to repair direct meteor damage every hundred million years."

Hee hee!

(Oh, and the link to my website is now http://journalscape.com/michaeljasper) :)

Dr. Lisa said...

David - I show those, too. Good ol' desert hardpan!

Mike - But you still can't buy insurance for it! (And I'll fix it!)

Jackie M. said...

I believe David has beaten me to my suggestion.

(it's not the hardpan; it's the heat.)

David Moles said...

But it's a dry heat.

David Moles said...

Maybe your students would be interested in "How to Destroy the Earth"?

Dr. Lisa said...

Ha! Awesome.

Pat. said...

Oh man. I just wanna role-play session the hell out of that Torino Scale. Looks like the perfect prop for a Paranoia or OG game...

Dr. Lisa said...

Ha ha ha! Do it!