Astrophe (n). the feeling of being stuck on earth (Source: The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)
We learn about the planets of our Solar System when we’re five or six, and about other galaxies a few years later. We learn that Jupiter has a great red spot, that Neptune is sapphire blue, that Venus has clouds made of deadly sulfuric acid. And then we realize that, as endless as our Solar System may seem, it’s just a tiny dot in an infinite expanse of silence and dust. We’re overwhelmed with excitement when we catch one of the planets in the night skies; within minutes, onlookers have whipped out telescopes and powerful binoculars, all in the hope of laying eyes on an entity we can only dream about. Gravity holds us down, as if playing a petty game with our spirits and imagination. And so, we only know what sunrise looks like on Earth—we can never know what the rising sun looks like on Jupiter, or Mercury, or Pluto. We don’t know what our planet looks like from miles afar. Our perspective of the universe is constant and unchanging, all become of the limitations that prevent us from escaping the shackles of gravity.
We are trapped. The best we can do is send pieces of metal and dreams beyond the earth’s pull, and hope that it gets us somewhere. But… there is just so much out there! The world held its breath when Juno reached Jupiter—since it meant that a piece of humanity was reaching a realm we long to see with our own eyes. And that isn’t even the most intriguing planet in our universe! There’s the planet made of diamonds, the planet darker than coal or black acrylic paint, the planet of burning ice, rogue planets that roam about the universe—estranged and parentless. There are hypervelocity stars, quasars, the universe’s largest water reservoir, and a multitude of others… The incredible objects that encircle us seem as infinite and mysterious as the universe itself. When I first heard about these bodies, I was entranced. Until I realized that their “discovery” could be anything—a scientific glitch, an astronomical mistake, imaginations that ran a bit too wild. Even worse? The realization that we can’t know if they’re real or not with our own senses. The only thing we can control ourselves is the extent of our innovation and our ability to keep dreaming.
Sometimes, I wonder what it would feel like to view the Solar System from another galaxy. Is the sun a part of a constellation we don’t know exists? Is it a part of a system we haven’t come across yet? Are we being viewed by other perceptive eyes? Are we the aliens with strange features, enmeshed in curious surroundings—the subject of mindful speculations? I wonder how long it would take humanity to unravel these difficult questions.
But somehow, doesn’t the beauty of space revolve around its mysterious nature? Yes, we’re prevented from hiking up the skies and escaping the walls of our galaxy. Yes, we’re only around for a limited amount of time, while the universe embraces travelers who can immortalize themselves. If we think about it, we are completely imprisoned by forces beyond our control—regardless of how open and inviting those skies may seem. Or, in the words of John Koenig, we are grounded: stuck on earth, unable to leave it.
But that doesn’t mean we’re deprived of the treasures embedded in the universe. They’re alive in our imagination. In reality, a rogue planet is probably an ugly, dangerous chunk of rock roaming around the universe. But in our mind’s eye, it is so much more than that—a manifestation of rebellion, an object that refuses to conform to a standard orbit, a body with an acute case of wanderlust. Canis Majoris, one of the largest stars known to humankind, is a massive ball of fire that would incinerate all objects in its vicinity. To our imaginations, it is a glowing orb too powerful to envision.
Maybe it’s a good thing that we’re imprisoned by gravity… When it comes to it, I think our mind more than compensates for what we can’t perceive with our own senses.