In a galaxy far far away... I'll be having a panic attack

Yesterday's One Word exercise (Galaxy) reminded me of a fear I have of not knowing my way home if I ever get stranded outside of our solar system.

Who has fears like this? Apparently I do. Or at least one was fostered in me about fifteen or so years ago at a planetarium.

I was sitting in the dark auditorium, looking up at the (fake) night sky, as stars and comets and little arrows whisked all over the place pointing out this feature or that. I want to say the narrator's voice in this presentation was Robin Williams but I might be mistaken. Maybe Billy Crystal? Anyway, this was not like planetarium shows I'd watched as a child, with specs of light. This was a whole surround sound video type of thing.

At one point the video showed an example of just how small we and our planet are. The view zoomed out to show a continent... a familiar sight. Then further to show our planet.... also familiar (Look! That's home!) and then further out to show our solar system... (That's us! Third rock from the sun! Look how pretty our solar system is!) and then further out to show our solar system amongst many others.

Right about this point my brain came to a screeching halt as I realized that I had no idea which of those stars was our own solar system. Next the view zoomed to a picture of our galaxy. This made me feel a tiny bit better. Our galaxy's images are, again, familiar. Then they zoomed out to show our galaxy amidst BILLIONS of other galaxies.... and that's when I panicked. And this panic was not alleviated by the view zooming further and further and further out and my realizing OMG I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE MY PLANET IS!!! HOW WOULD I GET HOME if I was THIS FAR OUT IN SPACE??!!!!!!

I seriously panicked! I was staring at the ceiling of the planetarium thinking "I have no idea how to find or figure out which galaxy is ours!" I had no frame of reference. I know how to identify our planet within our solar system and I know that we (supposedly) live in a spiral galaxy, but if there were a BAZILLION points of light spread out in front of you, who would have the TIME (or the FUEL!) to check out the INFINITE number of possibilities! I couldn't even narrow it down to a cluster! No clue. No idea whatsoever how to identify which little spec of light might be ours, and which direction to go if I ever got "out" that far.

I had to keep telling myself, in my head, "You're still ON Earth, you're sitting in a planetarium in a museum, you haven't gone anywhere and oh btw, YOU VERY LIKELY NEVER WILL!!! SNAP OUT OF IT!!!" I even made myself look around at the room and the chairs and the people, to try to ground myself, but my brain kept yelling back at me "Yeah but WHAT IF???!!!"

You know what finally made me calmer? When the video zoomed back down little by little, back to our galaxy, our solar system, our planet, our continent, and then finally, to us. THAT put my whole body back into a relaxed state. Not my telling myself anything logical! No! My brain had been freaked out by images, and that's what it took to calm it back down. Those same images in reverse!

To this day I'm still surprised by how immersed I was and how freaked out I got once I couldn't recognize "landmarks" (space marks?) past a certain distance from "home." This has since been a source of amusement and slight concern to me. (Concern because who takes something like that seriously? Again, apparently that would be ME.)

So I thought about that again yesterday, when I had the word "Galaxy" at One Word (I also thought "NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER SURRENDER!" - Which I quoted backwards yesterday. My bad. It sounds better to me the other way.) Anyway, I remembered seeing these once upon a time and wondered if I could find them again.

Dog tag showing aliens how to get you home.

I did. They're here: Location Earth Dog Tags. (And they come with a money back guarantee if aliens fail to understand the map and bring you home while you're wearing one of these.)

But they seemed to be lacking in information. So I looked up the original Pioneer Plaque drawing,

Click picture to "embiggin"

which still leaves something to be desired in its clarity, but all things considered, it's the best I've got at the moment. (More on that image here.)

Both images are now downloaded to my iphone, which puts me in a slightly better position if I ever leave Earth while out on a walk or running some errands (and also if my phone is charged and I have a compatible power source to re-charge it "wherever.") If, however, I'm ever abducted from my bed, I'm pretty much hosed. Well... if I were ever abducted from my bed I'd be pretty much hosed with or without directions to get home.

* FYI, I've never had a fear of alien abductions. The fear was really just about how I wouldn't know how to get home from too far out in space!


Kelly said...

Ah, the brain, such a mysterious thing! What a great story, I love it. But don't ever watch Battlestar Galactica, you're likely to end up in an asylum from it. About the only thing your panic attack was missing were the killer robots. ;)

Noisy Quiet said...

I've never really worried about rogue aliens. At least no more than I'd worry about rogue humans! ;)

I just didn't like the idea that I wouldn't be able to point and say "It's that way!"

Josie said...

I have no backbone, I went and looked at the link and explanation of the Pioneer plaque.. . .I got to the bit about hydrogen, my eyes glazed over and I adopted my tried and tested survival approach implemented when having to read boring writing (no, I would never adopt this practice when marking) of only reading every 3rd word- it didn't help. So I scrolled down and understood the picture of the globe. . kept scrolled and understood nothing. . .which is when I decided to go and lie on the couch some more. . . sorry!
Josie x

Noisy Quiet said...

I'm impressed you actually bothered to TRY to read that! Lol!

FWIW, I think aliens would have a similar response to yours. About the only thing they might understand is the figures of human beings and the planetary map. The pulsars? They won't get that. The hydrogen? They won't get that. They may not even get the pictoral representation of the Pioneer.

FYI, The two circles at the top of the picture show Hydrogen in two different energy states. When Hydrogen changes from one of those energy states to the other, it gives off a small burst of energy. That burst of energy, when it occurs, is always the same and it can be measured.

That "energy burst measurement" is the unit of measurement used for the rest of the graphic.

So whenever distance or length is shown, it's not shown in terms of miles (for example) it's shown in terms of "hydrogen energy bursts." (six hydrogen bursts long... 8 hydrogen bursts.... etc) That's a very basic explanation.

- Now go back and read this comment without skipping to every 3rd word ;)

Josie said...

Well, why didn't they just say that? I got as far as "hydrogen" then it went all blurry. . .
Josie x

Noisy Quiet said...


Now... you're human (to the best of my knowledge!) Imagine an alien trying to make sense of that, and you'll have a better idea of how screwed I'd be if I were ever "lost in space!" ;)

Noisy Quiet said...

Btw, I admire your tenacity. Thanks for reading! You get an "A" :)

Noisy Quiet said...

I just added the option to click the picture to see a larger version. You know... because so many people will take the time to do that ;) (I meant to set it up that way originally but forgot)

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