Space should make us humble

See this photo? Does anyone want to guess what that is?

Ok, so, the photo was taken by the Cassini spacecraft, and it shows a jet stream that flows around the northern pole of Saturn…

…which, by the way, happens to be in the shape of a hexagon.

A total fluke you say? Perhaps some glitch with the camera?


Oh, but surely the jet stream made that shape momentarily, and, as jet streams in Earth’s atmosphere do, returned to constant meandering like this:

…shortly after the photo was taken, right?


The last visible-light images of the entire hexagon were captured by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft nearly 30 years ago, the last time spring began on Saturn. After the sunlight faded, darkness shrouded the north pole for 15 years. Much to the delight and bafflement of Cassini scientists, the location and shape of the hexagon in the latest images match up with what they saw in the Voyager pictures.

“The longevity of the hexagon makes this something special, given that weather on Earth lasts on the order of weeks,” said Kunio Sayanagi, a Cassini imaging team associate at the California Institute of Technology.

About a month ago, humans got all cocky because we confirmed that there was ice on the moon by essentially dropping bombs on our pie in the sky and analyzing the lunar material kicked up by the impact.

A month before that astronomers reported that they’d discovered 32 new planets outside of our solar system, bragging about their technology and knowledge.

Let’s face it. Stuff like the Saturn hexagon is a big fat reminder of just how tiny we are amidst the vastness of an infinitely complex universe. I’m not saying that we should view astronomy and space exploration as beyond our grasp, that the mysteries of the universe are ultimately beyond our understanding and so we should just give up.

But, I am saying that we should maintain a degree of humility as we continue to explore. Humans don’t have a great track record in this area. We have, rather, a long, bloody history of conquest thinly veiled as exploration, sticking flags in the ground wherever we want.

We should be willing to say we’re wrong when we’re wrong. We should, most of all, not conduct ourselves as if we have ownership over all we survey. After all, we wouldn’t want extraterrestrials treating us like that.

Would we?

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