What Is Space For? — The New Atlantis | Space

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I don’t know what space exploration will uncover, but I don’t think it’ll be exploration just for the sake of exploration. I think it will be more the fact that it allows us to see things that maybe we should’ve seen a long time ago, but just haven’t been able to until now.

— Neil Armstrong, played by Ryan Gosling, in First Man (2018)

Imagine the splendor of the night sky, and consider. Even with light pollution diminishing the clarity of the heavens in most of our cities, there is still something stirring about peering into the abyss. Whether it’s the dozens of stars dotting the cityscape or the thousands you can see from a rural vantage, the expanse of space is staggering, even to the naked eye. Add to that the wonders coming from deep space telescopes and modern astrophysics. To name only a few: Within the past few months, scientists have identified a planet with a shiny, reflective atmosphere; for a brief period of time, there was a sunspot larger than our entire planet; a chunk of metal five times the size of Hawaii’s Big Island is embedded in the mantle of the Moon; the fabric of space-time ripples like an ocean; and apparently these ripples cause the entire cosmos to hum with sonic frequency.

Yet, in spite of its grandeur, space is also deadly, a lethal vacuum coupled with lethal radiation. And it’s huge. The great distance between us and our cosmic neighbors radically inhibits the possibility for meaningful interaction. A recent article noted that scientists have discovered one of the closest supernovas to Earth “at only 21 million light-years away.” Such numbers are bewildering. Even a voyage to our next-door neighbor Mars requires astonishing amounts of fuel, thousands of tons at minimum, relegating the prospect of deep space travel to far futures or sci-fi dreams. We are so close, and yet so far.

At times, when reading the latest astronomical discovery from this…

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