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."
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.