“When I think of the Earth, I think about…”

Photo of Earth from space

By Rabeea Rasheed

When I think of the Earth, I think about it as one strange rock orbiting in space around an average star. Earth makes me think about my place in the universe, forcing me to seek answers to some of the biggest questions – questions about our existence and mysteries of the universe such as what is the possibility of life somewhere out there, in the great unknown; if it exists, what would be the nature of that life form?  

Our world may appear as one pale blue dot as seen from a certain vantage point in space, yet it harbors a whole universe in itself. Not too cold, not too hot, a planet just right for life. It comes as no surprise that we can find life almost everywhere on Earth – our world appears to be fine-tuned for life’s existence, where even one of the key constituents of the atmosphere that many organisms rely on for their survival is a by-product of biological processes.

When I think of the Earth, I think about it as the only planet that we know of to contain an assorted variety of living organisms, from the tiniest microbe to the mighty blue whale. Earth appears so wonderfully enigmatic. It was extremely difficult for our ancestors to understand the true nature of our world. But what they lacked in knowledge, they made up for with an unmitigated curiosity. By night they looked for answers in the stars and by day, searched for the meaning of life and existence, making extraordinary discoveries. In the last few centuries, human beings have made staggering discoveries with the help of science.

Think of all the natural processes that had to go just right to make life possible on Earth – one might wonder if they are limited to just our planet. I hope not. In all this vastness, there has to be another place that happened to hit the unlikeliest of jackpots to support life, like our planet.

Our universe may seem like a lonely place. However, the odds of there being “someone” else out there are undeniably promising. One estimate suggests that there are 100 to 400 billion stars alone in the Milky Way galaxy. Some astronomers think there could be as many as 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. The number of habitable planets in the entire universe is unfathomable. But Kepler Space Telescope has discovered 4164 exoplanets so far. 

There are planets where life has never risen; some planets are ruined by cosmic catastrophes. Some are too far away from the Sun, some too close. Some are dead from the beginning of their existence. Our planet is alive. The oldest uncontested evidence of life we have is roughly 3.5 billion years old. Through the eons, life grew and adapted and evolved from single cells to include a multitude of complex multi-cellular beings. Along the way, there were some deadly events when most living things just vanished, but life managed to crawl back. All these intriguing ideas and thoughts about my planet keep me up at night and keep me grounded, reminding me of my insignificance in the great enveloping cosmic scale. I wonder if I could ever explain in words what it’s like to stand on earth’s surface, to own it as my only home in the vastness of space and time. We sometimes tend to forget that our planet Earth is the only home we have. We take our planet Earth for granted by ignoring some serious facts about climate change – let’s take a pledge together to cherish it more and to try our best to take the measures necessary to protect our blue planet.

BMSIS YSP Research Associate Rabeea Rasheed is working on the YSP project “Communicating Topics in Earth and Space Science” Rabeea is a science communicator and educator at Lahore Grammar School in Pakistan. She is also International Committee member of NoR CEL.