And around we go
We move--walking, driving, flying--across the surface of our sweet, unlikely planet, never more than 8,000 miles from anyone else. Everyone and everything man-made (excepting a few tons of space probes and clutter) lie within an 8,000 mile sphere, centered on me. Or you. All the ongoing wars, all the babies now being born and people dying, all the fish in the sea and books on library shelves and saints and terrorists--all lie within our small spheres.
And we're all in this together, moving through space, taking a year to whiz 300 million miles around the sun--nearly a million miles a day. Let's leave off the sun's galactic motion for now: I want to focus for a minute on earth's wide orbit, imagining (per Copernicus) our star to be a fixture. Our annual road trip is an elongated circle--an ellipse--around our parent body. How can we have any awareness of this at all? This table, this chair, this me, are as fixed as anything I can imagine. How can I experience the fact of whirling around the sun?
What I do is catch the moon at last quarter, that is, when just half of it appears in the morning sky. (I might have to wait two or three weeks for this to occur, depending on where we're at with the moon's phase. Exactness doesn't matter, a few days either way will do--for 2006, the best dates are August 23, September 21, October 20, November 18, December 18.)
OK, so here I am, outside on a clear morning: I check out the position of the sun and the half-circle of moon. Now I imagine I'm hanging on to the end of a rope attached to the sun, I'm swinging around on the end of it, in the direction of the moon: hanging for dear life onto a 92 million mile long rope, heading towards the moon. At 40,000 mph. Hang on tight!
That's it. At last quarter moon, the earth is heading (more or less) in the direction of the moon as it goes around the sun. In six hours, I'll be where the moon now is: that's how fast I am (and you are) going, and that's the direction we're all traveling.
Do try this for yourself. For me, the exercise evokes a profound realization, a "getting it", that takes me out of my tiny consciousness into the realms of something much bigger, a vastness of space and motion.