DISCOVERED! THE MOST DISTANT OBJECT IN OUR SOLAR SYSTEM! And why no one cared.
When did we become so bored with the universe?
Considering that the entire account of human history has happened on a planet that exists suspended in the infinite cosmos, it is an alarming realization how little I know about my home and location among all that is going on out there. What makes it even more bizarre is that ancient civilizations around the world and throughout history knew the movements of the constellations with precision and reverential fascination. Now, it just feels like someone poured cement over the space that was protecting the general consciousness’ knowledge about the movements of the heavenly bodies, eventually severing our collective connection with it. What happened?
There are a few easy ways to identify where the shared memory has been paved over. For starters is the myth that Earth is the only planet with life on it; but really this is just a conclusion we come to based on the limitations of our senses, which directly inform how we come to know existence. Limiting our senses has detrimental effects on how we see ourselves in relation to the realms around us. It’s like we have simultaneously capped and placed in absolute command the five senses as the sole guardians of gaining and experiencing knowledge. They are kept stagnant with no possibility of evolving- or there ever being anything beyond them- and yet they are granted a type of totalitarian emphasis as the only legitimate ways of knowing. Therefore, the belief that Earth is the only planet with life on it could be thought of as a marker of where we’re at in the evolution of our species and our senses that can currently conceive of only one definition of life, one that is based on a cellular composition (think: human, plant, animal, fungi). This means that beneath the pavement is a myriad of other forms of existence that are possible- we just lack the knowing of what to look for.
Also diminished is the depth of which we think about our own solar system. We are taught that there are 8-9 planets, depending on whether or not “dwarf planet” is an acceptable criteria to be recognized or not. We know little about our immediate neighbors that also orbit the Sun: what constitutes the surfaces and atmospheres, when they were discovered, the motion of their movements or what their names honor. Nothing of what was taught about the constellations would help me survive today when charting the seas or planting seedlings. Our understanding of this Solar System has been reduced to being counted on two hands, underplaying incredible facts like how Saturn has 62 orbiting moons and Neptune has 13. The Asteroid Belt and the Kuiper Belt are completely overlooked. And most students are not taught that the original names of stars are Arabic, pointing to the Islamic Golden Age (8-15th century CE) that preserved the study of astronomy while Europe slid into the Dark Ages and transitioned into the Middle Ages from the 8th-13th centuries. It is an amazing piece of the human story.
This disconnect caught my attention in late October 2015 when the most distant object ever recorded in our Solar System was discovered: the dwarf planet V774104. Scientists Scott Sheppard, Chad Trujillo and David Tholen observed the planet’s movements as part of a survey of the most distant objects revolving around the Sun using a 26-feet Subaru Telescope, looking for things beyond the Kuiper Belt, the area where Pluto resides.
What fascinating news! It is certainly headline worthy: DISCOVERED! THE MOST DISTANT OBJECT IN OUR SOLAR SYSTEM!
And do you know what conversations are buzzing around V774104? It is not simply that this planet is proof that even our own Solar System is bigger than we thought. The orbit of V774104, whose exact path will remain unknown until scientists can gather enough data, could be tied to a dark, rocky planet on the edges of the Solar System with a gravitational pull as strong as Neptune’s.
This larger, influential planet- known already by many as Planet X- would likely be the Sun’s companion star, common in binary or multiple star systems. Already this loosens what we think we know about our own immediate solar system, does it not? It could be that we live through our own Copernican revolution. At the very least, it suggests that the cosmos themselves are always adjusting, and the systems of existence are as fragile out there as they are down here.
V774104 has made me curious. Where has it been all this time? Where does it go, and what is it like there? What does it exist amongst when travelling in the areas we cannot see? And why, in this time when there is no shortage of news and modes to disseminate it, is no one telling this story?
Here is what we know about V774104 so far. It is 103 AU (astronomical units) away- which is to say 103 times the distance of Earth from the Sun, or three times farther away than Pluto. Estimates range from 300-1000km across and it resides in the inner Oort Cloud, an area beyond Neptune and the icy, rocky Kuiper Belt where Pluto is. Because it is so distant an object, its orbit is estimated to last millennia. Determining the orbit, however, is a highly anticipated event for what it will suggest about the gravitational pull of heavyweights like Neptune and the Sun, or possibly something else that lies just beyond where our Sun’s pull is not the dominant force effecting movements of objects travelling through space.
These days, while seemingly dark and/or heavy, are ultimately exciting and important; I feel lucky to get to exist to witness and enjoy them. The weight and thrill of this moment to see how great or how awful humanity can truly become is accompanied by this wild Digital Revolution- granting us all front row seats to what it means for us while on our collective, epic journey of sustaining life on Earth. In just two decades, we have created technology that grants us the ultimate access to the global present. Prior to the mid-1990’s, the dissemination and consumption of news operated by recounting and delivering events in retrospect- the story had already passed. Today, we can peer into situations as they occur now that the masses own portable technology that allows anyone to instantaneously record and share. Major world events aren’t the only portals open for tapping; it is also the by-the-moment updates detailed on social media that give us immediate access to the lived experience of people in our networks and tribes.
So, it’s a little odd that with all of this knowledge available for access, there were only a handful of similar stories spreading the news about V774104. How is it possible that we exist in a world where there is no shortage of boring news- much of it spineless garbage with little truth, knowledge or beauty to promote- and nothing about what is going on in space? Why the shroud of secrecy? Or neglect to report?
The arrival of V774104 reignites a host of curiosities about outer space that makes it feel as if the earth has been taught in a shrinkwrapped form to intentionally limit and distort perceptions of our place in the infinite and the broader narrative of existence. A small universe reinforces a small palate of possibilities. It limits what any artist has to work with, and inherently signals that certain things are prohibited. And so it makes sense, that whenever the solar system started being taught in a limited way, a less-aware and less-informed populace eventually emerged, completely disconnected from the powerful, freeing knowledge they once possessed.
Who is taking it upon themselves to control our palates? According to my own personal understanding of the world, the “who” is some residual, mutated darkness that still thinks slavery is okay, racism is acceptable, patriarchy is norm, homosexuality is unnatural, dictatorships are legitimate, resources are made for extracting and earning profit, deceit is a tactic, youth are not capable, genocide is an option, animals are for enslaving and eating, plants don’t have consciousness and planet earth exists solely for purposes of our disposal. This is the moral compass of our world powers right now.
With these conditions, closing off the cosmos is, indeed, an excellent method to establish perimeters and exert mental control over an entire planet in order to continue doing these things. Yet intentionally limiting access to the infinite is making us all crazy because we can’t shake this belief that this is all there is to living.
How many times do I have to direct these thoughts to this worldview: Do not tell me how to think of myself as I go through this life. And stop clouding up my view of the stars at night.
In order to understand what purpose teaching a limited universe serves and to what power, there are a couple things I believe have been crucial for enabling such a civilizational crisis. Both I believe have supported a lens focusing inward, taking us unimagineable fathoms into ourselves and the micro world. They have also dug us into a tunnel of impending defeat.
The first is the value of Specialization that our free market global capitalism celebrates, and it is exactly as its name suggests. It is the concentration of productive efforts by narrowing the area of expertise while increasing efficiency in creating the desired outputs. This principle seeps into our culture in the form of a specialized and focused life path where educational training and focus typically determines your present and future. It’s a far swing from the masters of old who were fluent in the studies of astronomy, philosophy, mathematics, natural science and so on.
The second phenomena that has normalized this modus operandi has been the rise of Western philosophy, which marked a 2,800 year period to learn, each age, about the miracle of living. It is an intoxicating, sweeping, contagious feeling- existence- so it’s no wonder that we would spend nearly three millennia diving to the depths within to learn about the components that make it possible. By exploring, naming and classifying the micro world at such deep levels, we have gained an intimate understanding of it, and how it is a part of us.
The ability to identify the core, essential parts of what comprises any and everything is a part of humanity’s legacy. Over time we have deciphered time eras from geological terrain, created a table of pure elements, split atoms, discovered single-cell organisms, pressed flesh and seed for oil, gone to therapy and religion for root issues that impact our reality, participated in alchemy to find the true nature and essence of metals in order to transform them into gold.
The glory of the dive, however, is in a direct relationship with its dark side, which is its ability to be used for divisive means. Part of the dive has been a fascination with taxonomy- which is to identify, label, name and categorize things. Assuming that something wants to exert power over an entire planet, one tactic has proven itself timeless and indispensable: divide and conquer. Thus, there has been an exorbitant amount of energy spent on finding evidence that would justify and establish a criteria that humans are in fact separate, different or unequal based on the various assigned labels. Doing so creates a self-policing population that props up the power simply because they feel they are preserving and protecting their identity.
The unnecessary assertions that divide are well known: this ethnicity has a different skull size that impacts their intelligence; that race has genetic limitations in this environment; I am this political party or religion and you are not, so we are ontologically and spiritually different; you identify as a different sex, gender or sexual orientation which determines who finds God’s favor.
Why exert such divisive power? Why go to the lengths of deception and manipulation to control, groom and mold? For starters, whoever (or whatever) is in power is making extraordinary profit at the work of others. That profit is the key to doors that separate us- private clubs, countries, places in the sky, types of clothing, types of food, attention, homes. It is the driving force of greed that invariably sustains this- the belief that only some can enjoy these luxuries while others clearly have not worked hard enough for it, don’t deserve it, or are inherently, genetically and categorically born to be denied it.
We are now at the point where the dive within is writing the story of life as a tragedy. Our intelligence and ability to know, learn and discover has taken the expedition into a dark tunnel. We’ve done such a good job, we’ve forgotten that we could turn around and go outward again. Otherwise, if we keep diving in, we’re going to kill ourselves off over smaller and smaller differences- which a dark, manipulative power would undoubtedly hope for. When did we learn to hate one another this much?
And while these labels and defenses take place in our everyday lives, the system continues to move on exactly as it is designed: to ensure and sustain profits with an available consumer population. Even this is shifting rapidly within the last few years alone. Our dive, ever-deeper, has created the ultimate consumer experience based on personalized automation, visible by the rise of individual targeted advertising determined by algorithms, suggestions for ideal mates based on surveys, and the rise of experts and specialists as the Jack of All Trades population diminishes. We don’t discover treasures in market places, we are told what to buy. We no longer approach each other in bars, we go home to write a Missed Connection about it or hope that we see them later on Tinder. And we treat our knowledge as a point of distinction rather than as complementary parts of a living organism that all need one another to live.
And that’s what the dive has created while swimming in the conditions of Specialization and the fascination of micro-discovery. The significant shift occured when the journey transformed from seeking out “the essence of,” to a focus on the identity of “the individual,” whose extreme end of the spectrum is fanaticism. While on the surface “essence” and “individual” may seem interchangeable, they are two entirely different approaches to how we, as conscious, living, feeling and powerful beings, walk through these days of life. Disconnect between these two has brought with it some frightening ideologies, practices and beliefs about the purpose of existence because we’ve assigned attachments and purpose to our identity, which invariably created bonds of allegiance based on shared labels, experiences and historical memory.
Labels have been given insurmountable power for their ability to move, stir and mobilize in order to defend the deeper we’ve gone. It is evidence of how the power of words and language can be used for purposes of disruption where instead celebrating the uniqueness of identities and the ever-changing kaleidoscope of being, we are always on guard to protect against the threat of universal conformity. Protection, however, is conflated with a military approach that relies on weapons, violence and self-interest, eventually escalating to the point of war. The war for our identity has meant a state of total war on our age; The War on Women, Drugs , Christmas and Terror is driven by these very markers.
Our current system of power continues excavating the tunnel to a place where everyone is hovered over- lonely, damp and pale- to protect our single contribution. To a place with little light where we annihilate one another as a way of dealing with our fear of differences and intentions.
Is anyone else getting tired of it always feeling so tight everywhere?
The ability to exercise control over how a world population learns about their place in the universe is a type of asphyxiation that can only be wielded by a most formidable power. Exerting such a comprehensive and exhaustive amount of influence to turn a planet’s eyes from the skies and into their minds has had a direct impact on shaping one’s sense of place and purpose, both of which determine what one is capable of, the shape a life can take, or what is thought of as possible and/or acceptable.
The structure is maintained by using the former playgrounds of democracy- journalism, education and politics- as the prime arenas for socialization. Negative messaging and manipulative programming from these spokesholes has successfully created generations of humans whose physical and mental realities obey that this version of modernity is not only acceptable, but natural. In order to uphold the duty and commitment of their training, I urge political scientists, students and stewards of world affairs to critically examine universal education systems like those promoted and implemented by groups like the United Nations for content, values and embedded perspectives that limit one’s sense of being.
The closing off of the earth has stripped the possibility of an adventurous escape where without a frontier to explore, a ship to be a stowaway on, or a space station to aspire to reach, we deny the masses a chance to pursue their lives based on risk, honor and intuition. The entire concept of exploration has been partitioned off and reserved for the rich, and the imagination has been trapped.
The arrival of V774104 and its ability to force us to look out and back out of the tunnel means one thing: We have gone as far as we meant to go, we explored the limits of our darkness, we were excellent cartographers of the tunnel, and yeah, we went there. But now V774104 brings with it a beckoning and an invitation to turn our gaze out to where the light has been shining all along.
Transforming the way we teach and learn about the solar system is the first step in doing this. It could have major reverberations on the key to unlocking our collective consciousness and the next step onward for the planet and all life on it.
For starters, it would change how we view existence. Instead of life being a set of rules to obey against a divine and sterile order, we could admit that the universe is constantly changing in a somewhat haphazard fashion- entering us in a wild, celestial dance. If we’re here and conscious, can it be that we are a part of something that is continually thinking itself into existence? Our obedience would be freed, revealing an earth that is constantly trying to flirt with us and steal from us a single glance so that we may be pleased with creation. All too often we miss it because we have closed those parts of our eyes.
Next, a renewed vigor for life as an adventure is what we must offer the younger generations if we want to make a sustainable trajectory out of the tunnel and towards something that glorifies existence. Youth are a critical part in shifting the course and breaking open the limitless possibility of our evolution in a way that mirrors a true understanding of the wondrous, beautiful, mysterious, unpredictable, brilliant, complex, loving Universe. Doing this requires awakening and engaging all of their senses, igniting their imaginations and unlimiting their limits.
Another shift that would happen by freeing our understanding of the universe would be a humble removal of humanity from the apex. In the process we would create a new shape, perhaps a spiral instead of a line. Gratitude and appreciation will evolve from a system that generates power from trust, truth and respect instead of fear.
And finally, by examining our relationships with identity and essence, we could come to new understandings of belonging. A look outward extends a message of unity for this specific type of life- all of the elements, minerals, animals, plants and humans- that have what it takes to be here on this planet, right now at the same time.
Real news can be shared without trying to control one another’s thoughts. We can stop punishing people for how they feel and stop expecting them to be us. We could be who we were born to be, and fall in love with one another for that alone.
I remember walking in the People’s Climate March in New York in September 2014. The night before I sat on the dusty hardwood floor of my then-Brooklyn apartment with a piece of cardboard and a black Crayola marker. What could I say on my sign? There were so many things to say, but what could capture the essence? I didn’t want the sign to be negative, or an admonishment of someone’s bad behavior. There would be plenty of those, and besides I’m not one for I Told You So’s or Shame On You’s. My bottom line was: I can’t believe we have to march to respect the planet. I can’t believe we have to take a stand to stop destroying the climate and our future. I can’t believe we are so disconnected from life, and how much it took for us to get here, and how close we are to losing it all. This isn’t supposed to be it. This wasn’t supposed to be how this glorious story ends. And there it was:
“This isn’t supposed to be the end of our story.”
V774104, the most distant object ever discovered in our solar system, should be thought of as a cosmological visitor, a deity with a message for this moment that redirects our direction and possibilities, because the one that is passed down today, this isn’t it. The limitless expanse should serve as our muse, not our slave. We should be enchanted by the beauty of unknowing that out there lies other species, matter unseen, doorways to other dimensions, portals to other times, giant planetary bodies, speeding missiles of rock, iron and ice, all with pathways, orbits, velocities, densities and age, ever-changing.
The time has come to look out again and know our place in the greater story of existence.
Cover Image Source: Unknown