Opinion: The Universe Is Shrinking -- Call It Cosmozation
So here's something I came up with: cosmozation. The word doesn't exist in the dictionary, but then 25 years or so ago neither did globalization. Soon, however, Webster will have to add "cosmozation," or something like it, in order to address man's intensifying relationship with the cosmos.
This artist rendition provided by NASA shows the Kepler space telescope, which was designed to search for Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy.
Think about it: We are looking for planets like ours in the Milky Way via the new Kepler telescope. and we are finding some serious possibilities. While astronomer Dimitar Sasselov recently made a mistake identifying some of those 140 possibilities as "Earthlike," instead of Earth-sized, the excitement of potential discoveries lit up the Internet. Despite the fuzzy data, the potential for finding millions more remains great.
Indeed, a radical shift in human psyche regarding our relationship with the rest of universe is taking place. Not so long ago, until Copernicus came along, we assumed our world was the universe's center -- and, for that matter, flat -- and that the sun orbited Earth. Last century we held on to the notion that our solar system was unique. Scientists just a generation ago assumed, too, that conditions on Earth -- a protective atmosphere, ample water and volcanic activity -- made it the only planet that could possibly support life.
That sense of self-importance has given way to a more humble assessment of our place in space. The conditions on our home planet may be unique, but solar systems are not at all anomalies. We are in the process of accepting that we are very much part of the larger universe. Furthermore, by sending space probes to the edge of the solar system, by collecting moon rocks and comet dust, by landing probes on Mars to dig for soils and search for signs of life, and by planning manned missions to Mars, we are in constant exchange with the universe.
Consider these astonishing discoveries made in the past decade or two.
Using the Hubble Telescope to study Earth's atmosphere, astronomer Lou Frank proved that Earth is constantly hit by snowballs from space. The implications are enormous: If snowballs from outer space hit Earth regularly, it is raining elsewhere onto other planets, providing much-needed water for the primordial soup.
The two rovers found ice on Mars. If there's ice on Mars, the probability of ice on other planets has grown exponentially as well.
And then, last year, we found water on the moon.
A few years ago, a meteorite from Mars found on Earth, known as the Allan Hills meteorite (or ALH 84001 to scientists), astonished everyone when some scientists claimed they found tantalizing traces of fossilized life within it. Their findings have been contested, but the meteorite renewed enthusiasm for the idea of "panspermia."
The interstellar exchange of DNA was a theory championed by Francis Crick, who discovered the DNA molecule with two other scientists in the last century. If scientists laughed behind the Nobel laureate's back when he first suggested it, no one is laughing now.
Besides, there is such a thing as self-fulfilling prophecy: If Earth didn't receive DNA for a startup way back when, we are now actively sending out DNA through space with our spacecrafts and satellites and shuttles.
Roland Robertson, a social scientist, defines globalization as "the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole."
Taking Robertson's definition a step further, it seems inevitable that the universe, too, shrinks and compresses as we explore and measure it, and infer profound implications from our discoveries.
Cosmozation, then, is the process in which man's awareness expands beyond the globe. He grows cognizant that he exists on intimate levels with the rest of the universe, that earth is in a open system with the rest of the cosmos and that man is interacting with, and increasingly having an effect upon, it.
And, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell, that sea on which humanity now sails is infinitely more vast than that imagined by Columbus. For the cosmic age, no doubt about it, has arrived.