Recharging Resilience on Vacation and Finding Earth’s Home in the Universe
While on vacation for 2019, I am recharging my resilience for the coming months. I have a photo to share with the myeloma patients who created the “Wall of Resilience,” a collage of inspirational images displayed this summer at the IMF’s annual Support Group Leaders Summit. Like many of these patients, I too draw strength from the natural beauty in the world that persists, despite threats from all sides.
As I have written before, many of these environmental threats can unleash toxins that have been linked to multiple myeloma. So, for that reason, it is heartening to witness global efforts to be eco-friendly with electric cars, bio-agriculture, and healthy eating. Nonetheless, mass tourism is threatening the very things we seek to preserve. And while a vacation provides an opportunity to refresh, it also reinforces awareness of the many problems and concerns at hand.
Opening the lens to the “local universe”
Watching in awe at the magic of a beautiful sunset, it is hard to grasp the reality of Earth’s home in the universe. Earth is one of eight planets in our solar system, located at the tip of the Orion arm of our spiral galaxy, the Milky Way. The Milky Way is home to several hundred billion stars, yet is just one of three galaxies in our local cluster. As French astrophysicist Hélène Courtois writes in her book, “Finding our Place in the Universe: How We Discovered Laniakea―the Milky Way's Home,” the Laniakea (“immeasurable heaven” in Hawaiian) Supercluster contains 100,000 large galaxies and 1 million smaller ones, with a total of over 100 trillion suns!
The numbers are staggering.
Laniakea was identified by a French cosmographer (someone who maps the universe) in September 2014. (A short video produced by the journal Nature, Laniakea: Our Home Supercluster, has drawn more than six million views.) Prior to that, we did not really know clearly how stars and galaxies are clustered together. Now we know that our local region is moving towards something called the Great Attractor, in a region called Hydra-Centaurus, a massive supercluster of galaxies.
What is amazing to me is that we are moving towards this region at a speed of 600 kilometers per second (pretty fast), in addition to spinning around our sun, and spinning as part of the Orion arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Feeling dizzy yet? As the sun sets and a few distant stars become visible, it is hard to believe the details of the cosmic dance occurring all around.
Finding heaven on Earth
In considering this immense local heaven, few would disagree that we live in a God-given paradise. Earth is a special place, maybe unique. As we observe the beginning of the universe, studying light that has travelled 13.8 billion light years (and has just arrived!), our special paradise is something to cherish and preserve. And although large numbers like billions and trillions are hard to grasp, it is helpful to remember that we have lots of large numbers right here on Earth. A trillion dollars, for example, is the current U.S. deficit, and drug-industry profits are usually calculated in the billions. The number of atoms in your body is around a billion trillion, which is called an octillion (10 to the power of 27; a trillion is 10 to the power of 12). This is way more than the mere 100 trillion suns in our local universe.
It turns out that we need to be able to manage really big numbers to sustain Earth, our precious home. As millions of people gathered around the globe recently to protest climate change inaction, this recent movement triggered by Greta Thunberg from Sweden has galvanized many to come up with ideas of what can be done. This week, former Vice-President Al Gore writes that it is not too late for action. To gobble up the dreaded excess carbon dioxide, planting trees can help. But how many? Recently, Ethiopia planted 353 million trees in less than one day. Experts have calculated that land is available to plant over a trillion trees, which can certainly have a major impact.
Understanding the geography of our universe brings into focus the crucial geography of our Earth. Some changes are now inevitable. However, adapting and preserving what we can is crucial to continue life as we know it. Technology is available to do amazing things to sustain the air, land, and seas, and all the life of our bio-diverse planet. All we need is the will to act. Moving to Mars or planet X is not the answer, unless you want to live in a sealed bio-bubble.
Resilience for the next year
So, now you know that I am not planning to move to Mars. When struck with the immensity of our universe – both up in the skies and in our very bodies – we all must ask what our place is here in this place called Earth in our Laniakea. The only enduring answer would seem to be to make life better – our own life and the lives of those around us. With my resilience recharged, I am ready to join yet again with researchers, clinicians, and support group leaders worldwide to bring some relief to those suffering from myeloma and all cancers.
Dr. Brian G.M. Durie co-founded and now serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.