The recent return of the Parti Québécois to power in Quebec has some people concerned about the stability of the country, but I’m worried about bigger things, such as the stability of the universe.
There’s this piece of rock half the size of a football field zipping through space at 28 times the speed of sound (although that doesn’t matter — there’s no sound out there) and it’s going to pass within 27,000 kilometres of Earth, the closest an object that size has come to our planet.
So there are all these politicians in Ottawa who claim they keep the country from falling to pieces, but they aren’t doing much to keep the world from flying apart.
A rogue asteroid isn’t the only thing to worry about. Consider, for a moment, our planet. It’s nearly 13,000 kilometres in diameter, yet the average thickness of the crust is 32 kilometres. If the earth were the size of an egg, the crust we walk around on would not be as thick as the shell.
This isn’t a solid rock we live on, it’s a mass of liquid barely held together by gravity. A little nudge from some stray planet or comet and we’d have a lot of magma sloshing around all over the place. Not a comforting prospect.
While politicians are arguing about how to keep Quebec in Confederation, continents are drifting about. In a few million years, you won’t recognize the place. The road maps will be all out of date and my GPS will constantly squawk: “Recalculating!”
Adding to my anxieties is the knowledge that the moon is moving away from the earth at the rate of a couple of centimetres a year. My grandkids will look up in the sky and see this little dot and that’s all they’ll have for a moon. They’ll think I’m exaggerating when I tell them how much bigger the moon looked when I was a kid.
It’s not just the cosmetics I’m worried about. We’ll always have streetlights. No, the moon is more important than that. It stabilizes the earth’s rotation, keeps it from wobbling wildly on its axis. That kind of wobbling leads to drastic shifts in the climate. Winnipeg’s climate might actually become pleasant, which would be a disaster for us on Vancouver Island because then we’d have to find someplace else with bad weather to be smug about.
We don’t have a huge margin of safety in our solar system. If we moved Earth five per cent closer to or farther away from the sun, life as we know it would cease to exist. Then we would know exactly how Torontonians feel about moving somewhere else in Canada.
I’ve never quite understood planetary orbits. I know in school they talked about whirling a ball on string around your head. The centrifugal force keeps the ball airborne and the string keeps it from flying away. Think of the gravity as the string.
So here we are zipping around the sun at 29,000 kilometres an hour. Suppose the federal Liberals, looking for a new policy to set themselves apart, get elected and repeal the law of gravity. Off we go into the depths of space where everything is dark and cold and where no one else lives. (Once again, that moving-from-Toronto syndrome.)
I don’t want to alarm anyone needlessly, but there’s something else we should be concerned about. The sun is burning itself out, but before it winks out completely and turns into a black hole (no unkind remarks about Fort McMurray, please!) it’s going to flare up and burn everything to a crisp.
That’s likely to happen in three billion years or so, which really puts a cramp in the B.C. Liberals’ schedule to pay down the provincial debt.
Scientists tell us that Asteroid 2012-DA14 — the one that’s whizzing past us next week — poses no danger, that it will just wave and keep on going. Maybe so, but I’m still parking my car in the garage that night.