Outer Space is Scary

When I told a colleague in the science editorial department that I am scared of outer space, she quipped, “That might be like an actual phobia. And you’re the only one who has it.”  We had a nice chuckle at that, and I told myself it’s silly to be scared of space, but I can’t really help it. It’s not a phobia, though, even if my heart rate is up just a little from just thinking about it. I prefer to think of it as a harmless, little neurosis.

The truth is, the things that scientists are learning about space and matter and how the universe is all put together is mind-bogglingly amazing. It’s completely overwhelming! For example, we are made up of particles of former stars. Yes — you, me, animals, plants — we’re all made up of particles of former stars. Well, I guess that isn’t a terribly new discovery. I think scientists have known it for a while, but I hadn’t heard it put that way until this week when I was watching a National Geographic program.

Another scary thing: asteroids! Yes, yes, I know there have been umpteen B movies and years of doom and gloom predicting what would happen if an asteroid hit Earth, and how maybe an asteroid killed the dinosaurs, and so on. But did you know that many scientists believe that an asteroid may have hit Siberia in 1908 — causing an explosion that felled 80 million trees?! Then, today I read that an asteroid just passed closely by Earth this week. If the asteroid had hit the planet, the energy of the impact would have been somewhere around 1,000 times more than that of an atomic bomb!

I could go on and on about other scary facts (the moon is moving away from Earth, the sun will grow and grow and grow until it swallows up the earth, space is full of dangerous radiation, there could be life as we don’t know it out there, etc.), but it’s getting late. If you’re interested, I recommend Discovery Channel, National Geographic, History Channel (you can get an entire episode of The Universe online), Discover Magazine (I enjoy the blog “Bad Astronomy”), and there’s always NASA’s web site, of course.

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