COLUMN: We don't know nearly as much as we think

We’re a pretty arrogant species, we humans. We like to think we’re the apex of creation and each generation thinks it’s better than all the previous ones. This attitude probably goes back to our earliest ancestors who thought that, once they had learned how not to get stepped on by a mammoth, they had this whole living thing figured out.
But, of course, we’ve been proven wrong time and time again throughout history. Turns out the Earth isn’t flat after all, it really isn’t at the center of the universe and you really can’t get a guaranteed 5 percent return on your investment. Of course, we rationalize and say the people who believed all that were idiots, not like us, even if they were an entire planet full of idiots at the time.
We’re the latest generation and we’ve got it all figured out. In fact, even the next generation will probably pale in comparison to how well we’ve got it all together.
We’re smug, complacent and yes, even arrogant about it. Then someone throws us a curveball, literally, that we literally didn’t see coming, as if the universe were telling us to take it down a notch, that maybe we don’t know everything and probably never will.
That happened this weekend when an amateur astronomer in Australia decided to skip watching Tom Watson play golf and go look at Jupiter through his telescope. Anthony Wesley in Canberra was debating whether to watch golf on TV or go look through his 14-inch backyard telescope, just 4 inches larger than my own backyard scope. In astronomy, size does matter.
Wesley decided to take another look at Jupiter and discovered an Earth-sized hole in the planet. Apparently something very large and moving very fast had crashed into Jupiter creating a huge, dark hole in the planet’s atmosphere near the south pole.
No one saw it coming and no one saw it hit the planet although it must have been enormous to punch a hole as big as our own planet in another one. Ironically, the collision occurred just days after the 15th anniversary of a similar collision on Jupiter. On July 16, 1994, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter leaving similar holes in the planet.
Difference is, we saw that one coming and were able to pinpoint when and where it would strike. I remember sitting by a friend’s swimming pool drinking a beer while my friends watched the fireworks on Jupiter through my telescope.
But no one apparently had a clue this one was about to strike. If it had hit the Earth, there would be nothing but an Earth-sized hole in space where we used to proclaim our superiority. And someone out there in the universe would be laughing their tail off and saying, “That ought to teach you a little humility.”
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at

Marty Russell/NEMS Daily Journal

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