How Do We Fit Into the Big Picture?

As individuals, and as a species, we're always trying to find our place. What we know about our planet, and universe, is expanding all the time.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

In this video interview, Professor Keith Vanderlinde at the University of Toronto captures the pursuit of knowledge about outer space beautifully: “Part of being human is this fundamental curiosity that we have about both our place in the world, and the universe as a whole. We want to explore out to the largest scales, we want to understand everything from the nearby to the far away.”

Alongside fellow space scientists Professors Gordon Osinski and Margaret Campbell-Brown at Western University, these researchers paint a rich picture of how studying space tells us about our future here on Earth, and our place in the vast expanses of the Universe.

Looking to our nearest neighbours in the solar system, like the moon or Mars, can even be like looking into the Earth’s future. Osinski explains that although the Earth looks very different from Mars now, “we all really started out the same. Mars today is a frozen kind of polar desert environment, and it lost its atmosphere at some point. Is that what’s in store for us in the future? We can go up to the Canadian Arctic and look at analogous environments and see what is happening today, in order to interpret those images that we see and get back from the various spacecraft around Mars.”

While space missions are exciting, there is still a lot to learn without ever leaving home. “It turns out that pieces of these objects hit the Earth every day. So we have these objects (meteors) burning up in our atmosphere all the time, just ready for us to study them,” says Campbell-Brown. By studying meteors, we can better protect buildings and satellites from the collisions that sometimes happen.

Our knowledge of the universe is expanding all the time. “We don’t just guess anymore what’s out there. We’ve now seen it. We can look out, we’ve mapped out all the local stars in the nearby galaxy, we’ve mapped out large chunks of the galaxy, all the local galaxies. We start to ask these questions about how big the universe is, where it came from, where it’s going. That’s an amazing thing to me,” says Vanderlinde.

Sounds pretty amazing to us, too.