Some things pass from existence with a gentle flutter, hardly noticed. Their sudden absence does not change the fundamental workings of our earth. Our planet is good at keeping going. It has been blasted by asteroids, choked by super volcanoes, frozen beneath sheets of ice, and yet when faced with disaster, it has proven resilient enough to wipe the slate clean and start over, to rise from the ashes of calamity.
The earth is not a never-changing rock, a timeless blue dot. It is not a permanent feature in the universe, and nor is it our species’ eternal refuge. Even if we survive our own appetite for self-destruction and earths fraught journey through the cosmos, there is one conclusion this world cannot escape.
The sun is getting brighter. You won’t notice it, and neither will your children. Or your grandchildren. Or your great-grandchildren. It might be tempting to disregard the sun’s demise as an irrelevance; in many ways it is, at least to us personally. We won’t be the last to experience a perfect day on our home world, the last to watch flakes of snow melt on our outstretched hands. We are not going to be witnesses to a celestial murder.
Yet what we will lose, what every person who ever has lived will lose, is our home. The home of our friends and family; the home of Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Galileo, Shakespeare. The long-away destruction of our home matters because our home is our self. Everything we have ever done as a species has been acted out on the stage that is planet earth. Every memory ever made has its setting on this world or close by it. Whilst, in the future, mankind may reach out for other planets, other stars, and there make new memories, they will be disconnected from us today. Alien. Our anchor is set on planet earth, and the chain stretches back all the way to its genesis.
We will not face the Armageddon of the sun’s death throes. We will never see the sun shine bright enough to overwhelm every photosynthesising plant. The oceans won’t boil before our eyes, and we will never lose sight of the stars behind thick, burning clouds. No one will stand on the new Venus to watch in awe as the sun swells an angry red, devouring the whole horizon each time it rises. If any humans are still around in the solar system, they will have to view from afar as the bleeding sun pulses off its vendetta into space, and shrinks into a cold, white speck.
When astronomers recently discovered a white dwarf star – similar to what our sun will become in billions of years’ time – they found traces of oxygen in a circumstellar disk orbiting it. They came to the conclusion that an asteroid had once orbited GD61 which contained a large amount of water; maybe it was a small part of a larger world broken up during the cataclysmic death of its sun; a living world. Perhaps one day someone will see the white light of our frozen star, find traces of oxygen and conclude that it too might once have supported a world with water, which may have plausibly housed life. That will be our world’s legacy. Our legacy. Words printed on a gravestone for others to read.