Saturn, the gas giant, is arguably the most photogenic planet in our solar system. It has its distinct ring around it, making it the most identifiable planet even amongst kids. These rings are composed of large particles of ice water primarily. There are two major theories about the formation of these rings. One, these have been formed by the collision of its moons with asteroids, raising the particles up in space, which made its journey in an orbit around Saturn. Two, these rings are made up of the leftover material from the original formation of the planet.
Turns out, Saturn may not be the only one with rings. Pretty soon our planet earth may also get its own rings. While Saturn got its rings from natural process, earth’s rings will owe its existence to human activity. Wait, this isn’t a story about some scientific marvel that we should be in awe of. The rings around the earth would form due to the enormous amount of space junk that we have caused — breakaway parts of spaceships and other garbage that humans discard in space. Much of the debris in space around our planet is the materials humans sent in space in the various probes and space missions.
Those substances range from various metals as well as tiny peels of paint from various bodies. They are starting to form an orbit around our planet and pretty soon would be forming a Saturn-like ring around the earth. Human activity is the major cause of problems not only on earth but also beyond earth.
When the world waged a war against terrorism, the result was only an increase in terrorism. Just when the United States declared that the terrorists hated the American freedoms, the US government itself violated those freedoms more than Bin Laden could have ever dreamt of. Similarly, in order to understand and protect the planet earth, scientists have been sending probes and missions into space, more problems are created affecting the health of the planet.
Scientific marvels have created enormous carbon emissions clogging our atmosphere and blocking the sun’s escaping heat back into the blackness of space. The result is the biggest threat humanity faces: climate change. Lo and behold, humanity now accumulates two major things in the atmosphere and beyond. One is intangible, the carbon dioxide that accumulates in the atmosphere causing the planet to cook. The other is a tangible thing, which includes the various tiny and large objects left behind in space as junk. Both are going to cause enormous damage to the planet and consequently to humanity.
Our species has a suicidal tendency. We run toward it in the name of scientific development. We are sold the notion that the collection of waste is the inevitable price of growth. That this orbital voyage of our trash is the price of becoming an interplanetary species. It does not have to be this way and it sure was not before when we ran our engines using water instead of the steam engines that came to replace the clean way of generating power. Human activity must change. The change must not come in slowing down progress or growth but rather in how we do things. If the change from within does not come, these Saturn-like rings around our planet might be the only distinctive and identifying feature left of the earth after we are done burning it to ashes.
It was Carl Sagan or was it Neil deGrasse Tyson who said that what was once there is now here. They meant to say that the heavenly bodies such as the planets and our moon are made up of the same elements that have formed the earth as well as human beings. Today, the reverse could be arguably true. What was here on earth is now in space such as carbon, peeled off paint, broken parts of spaceships, stray rockets, and so forth.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2021.
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