Updated: Jan 4, 2019
By now you've all seen the photo. It resembles a snowman that children lost interest in completing, leaving it either limbless or headless. It might be nitpicking to declare that they also left before awarding it the iconic hat, nose, and "two eyes made out of coal."
This then is Ultima Thule, a mere 21 miles long. If you stood it up in Hartford, Connecticut, and pushed it over from the south, it wouldn't even make it to the new casino in Springfield, Massachusetts. (In the process it, would of course, put an end to the merciless gridlock of I-91.)
Twenty-one miles. YV Canis Majoris has a diameter of almost 18 billion miles. Place that in Hartford and you won't have to worry about slots or poker.
So then, a 21-mile long piece of space junk then in a universe filled with more impressive units. And yet, it has caught our fancy. Maybe it's the distance from earth: four billion miles. There are days I don't go to the mall because it's too far, and yet, scientists have managed to set some instruments on a four-billion-mile trip, and now have the photos to prove it. (And for music lovers, astrophysicist and pretty fair guitarist Brian May has the song to accompany it.)
Of course those who believe the earth is 6000 years old and discount everything scientific (except e-coli on Romaine) probably won't be impressed, but for the rest of us—to use the one word which is always used incorrectly—it's awesome.
And you know what else is awesome? A week ago an asteroid-sampling OSIRIS-REx probe began circling the smallest body ever orbited by a spacecraft.
And yesterday China, our purported geopolitical rivals but also our companions on this planet, publicized the first phots taken from a huge crater on the moon's far side.
And there was that eclipse in 2017. (That video never gets old.)
This is escapism, of course, the type we usually achieve at the movies. But for a few days, at least, we can just watch the news. Of course we have to do it judiciously, for lying between the awesome events are the hopelessly mundane and the endlessly petty. The government is shut down, American citizens are suffering, immigrant children are dying, and a man who should be enjoying the open air of the recreation yard at some penitentiary is still tweeting from the White House.
But four billion miles away, there's this sort of snowman....