A safari experience to reflect on the Universe…

A couple of months ago we were profoundly inspired by a lovely family who came on a special safari with us.
Special because they are on a sabbatical with their two young children. Yes, a sabbatical year, invested in traveling the World, as an opportunity to better educate their kids.
Truly inspiring.

The young boy had an incredibly curious mind. At lunch we had a conversation which puzzled and almost embarrassed me… The boy was recalling how when on safari in Tanzania the previous days he said “look at the Thomson and the Grant gazelle: they clearly share a common ancestor”, and the guide (yes, their professional guide…) replied “no, I do not believe in evolution, God made them like that”.
The young curious boy was puzzled, even more so were his parents, I was told.
I did not know how to best go about this and inspire the curious mind of the lovely boy… So I shared the following story, borrowed from the great book “Kenya, A Natural History”, by Stephen Spawls and Glenn Mathews.
Imagine we could shrink the entire history of Planet Earth in a single day.
Compress our 4.6 billion years, written 4,600,000,000 years, in 24 hours.
Let’s see what happened in these 24 hours…
Until 5 am there are no Continents, they start to form between 5 and 6 am.
Life appears around 6:00 am, but is confined into water for the next 14 hours, until 22:00 (10 pm).
That is when plants make it into land. 45 minutes later, at 22:45 is the dinosaurs time.
Africa is born just 37 minutes before midnight and 7 minutes later, at 23:30 we, the mammals, appear.
10 minutes later, at 23:40 all dinosaurs go extinct.
The first hominims arrive at 2 minutes before midnight.
Kenya becomes independent 1 thousands of a second before midnight…

And this is just on our Planet scale.
Let’s take a moment and look around (and perhaps “up”), instead of back at the past.
Are you ready for the journey?
Let’s talk about us, homo sapiens. You are one of 7.3 billions. Written 7,300,000,000. Let’s understand this big number and put it into some perspective.
(Read the full article by Steven Austad here) Bertrand Russel made the point that us human need a bit of astronomy to grasp big numbers. Let’s try it out…
Ten years ago NASA launched an interplanetary space probe, appropriately named New Horizons. In these 10 years New Horizons has been traveling through our solar system, sending amazing images. New Horizons is fast, about 40,000 miles per hour. Distance covered? 3,000,0000,000 (3 billions) miles. Now next to Pluto, it took 4 1/2 hours for the image of it, sent from New Horizons at the speed of light, to reach Earth. At that speed it takes one second to travel from the Moon to Earth.
Do you know how long it would take New Horizons to reach the closest star: 90,000 years…
So our galaxy is big, quite big… But that star is just one of 100 billions (I will spare you the zeros) into our galaxy.
Uhmm, what does that big number mean?
Come back to Earth. Imagine relaxing on the beach and play with its sand. How many grains of sand could you hold in your hand? No idea, right? Well we, homo sapiens, have a curious mind and some researchers calculated the number of grains of sand for the ENTIRE planet Earth. All of its sand, dunes, beaches, deserts… Whatever that number, we would need 10,000 Earth like planets with their grains of sand to equal the LOWEST estimated number of stars in the Universe.
It helps putting things in prospective, doesn’t it?
And if you still have the desire to actually see this in scale, watch this video
Hold tight, you will fly to infinity…

This is, I think, what being on safari can be about… learning how we got here and what is around us. Human knowledge is growing, almost by the instant. What a great opportunity to be immersed in the African Nature to learn about our roots and our place in the Universe.