LIFE IMITATING ART
First, it was the Hale-Bopp Comet running interference for an alien spacecraft that sent the world into an interstellar tizzy. After Hale-Bopp came and went without incident, we settled back and concentrated on more earthly problems. Our celestial complacency was shattered last March with reports that an asteroid known as 1997-XF11 was taking aim at the Earth and would smash into us with apocalyptic results. After recalculating the trajectory of the asteroid, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory now predict that the menacing asteroid will miss us by 600,000 miles. Again, we took a deep breath and stood down from a stellar scrutiny.
Enter Hollywood. Tomorrow, Deep Impact will be released throughout America. Later this year, the second catastrophe film, Armageddon, will again feed our fear of running into errant galactic debris. Both Deep Impact and Armageddon attempt to deal with the haunting possibility that a life-destroying comet or asteroid could collide with the Earth and send us back into the Dark Ages.
Some sixty-five million years ago, a comet or asteroid did collide with us and turned days into a cold wintry nights for an untold number of years. The debris, dirt, and dust shrouded out sunlight. As a result of the lack of sunlight, massive extinction occurred-especially hard hit were all the dinosaurs and many other species. Some scientists believe that what hit the earth was at least five miles in diameter, creating a crater a mile wide in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
In July of 1994, we were able to observe from a safe distance the devastation wrought by Comet Shoemaker-Levy when it plummeted to the surface of Jupiter. The resultant impact was equivalent to five million Hiroshima-like explosions. Nearly all scientists believe that comets and asteroids will again hammer the earth as they have many times in the past.
Deep Impact and Armageddon will provide moviegoers with a harbinger of things that will occur when the Earth collides with a large piece of space debris. These movies raise not only fears but also some philosophical questions. What will be the consequences of the maelstrom created when something comes crashing down upon us? For example, in Deep Impact, the government creates a lottery to determine who will gain access to the scarce underground shelters. What would you do? Would you want to go beneath the surface of the Earth and wait it out? If you won a spot, would you use it or give it away to loved ones?
While these movies and news reports fan the fires of fears, we can use this anxiety to think about the way we are living life now. As we discuss the morality of a shelter or design technology to intercept the unwanted outer space visitor, why not spend some time asking ourselves, are we using wisely the time that we have before a deep impact might plunge us into an Armageddon?
Consider the following three suggestions:
We do not know what is lurking out there in deep space, nor do we know what might be also lurking within our bodies that can bring us harm. However, if you and I follow these suggestions, we will get the most out of our lives.
This article first appeared in the Dixon Telegraph.