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you should never give up before you start

Sailor Moon and the Relationships We Build
by Azul Pinochet Barros

PLASMA 6 article

What kid doesn’t wish they had super powers? In fact, what adult doesn’t wish that too? The ability to control something extraordinary at your command, whether it be your super strength, the ability to fly, telekinesis, or to somehow channel a force greater than yourself like, a planet?

Although I was not a diehard fan of Sailor Moon growing up myself, I do remember being enticed by the idea of planetary representation. All these space warriors like Sailor Uranus, Sailor Mercury, and Sailor Saturn with super powers that somehow spoke to the essence of the planets in our solar system – for a little girl, it’s a really cool thought! Of course, much like the naming of our solar neighbors, the Sailor Moon character’s powers have more of a mythological meaning. The planet Neptune was named after the Roman God of the sea, making Sailor Neptune’s (Michiru Kaioh) powers associated with the ocean. In this way, similar attributions are made for each warrior. Sailor Jupiter can wield electricity (alluding to the Roman God of lightning, Jupiter), but does not have the ability to develop magnetic fields of titanic proportions, super cyclones that would engulf planet Earth, or a crushing gravitational pull. 

Although this planetary representation is more a blend of mythology and sci-fi than science, I will say two things. One, as a little kid, superheroes will be superheroes and that is pretty darn cool. Two, because the characters represent a connection with these planets, it got me thinking of exactly that, our connection to them. What do we know about them and how have we come to acquire such knowledge? The science history that speaks to this is perhaps even more exciting to me than any TV show.

 

PLASMA magazine 6

From the times of Ancient Greece to Copernicus and Galileo, all the way to today, our relationship with these celestial bodies has been long and convoluted. Full of devotion in the face of adversity, scientists have championed through to see that these relationships aren’t just made, but that they hold true. This is how we have seen a transition from mythology, astrology, and superstition to the science of astronomy. For a long time, many civilizations believed blood moons to be divine signs of misfortunes to come. Thanks to the relationships we’ve built with our own satellite in the context of the general understanding that the Earth rotates around the Sun, we now know that rather than a bad omen, this is in fact a super awesome astronomical event dictated by Newtonian physics. 

Sometimes, even scientists fall into these superstitions without even realizing it. In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, through his telescopic observations of Mars, was convinced he saw canals spanning large areas of the Red Planet. At the time, many reasoned that these canals were most probably irrigation networks and could therefore only be the product of intelligent enough life to develop the necessary engineering skills for their construction – Martians! Speculation about intelligent life on the Red Planet became popularized even by some scientists, like American astronomer Percival Lowell dedicated much of their work to proving the “canal theory”. Obviously, we now know that, while there are some key ingredients for life on Mars like water and sunlight, as of today there is no proof of even microbial signs of life. As for the canals, these were later shown to be optical illusions with the help of astronomer Vincenzo Cerulli’s observations. 

What an emotional rollercoaster it must be to believe something of someone only to later find out that they’re something completely different! Indeed, this is the kind of centuries-long relationship that we’ve had with the Red Planet (as well as our other solar neighbors). One full of mysteries perpetually unraveled to reveal surprise, wonder, and even more mystery. Yet we still want to get closer. Know more. There’s a long line of flyby, orbiter, and rover missions that attest to this. With each mission, we’ve seen and learned so much more. In a way, it is a very Socratic relationship that we have with the heavens above. We love the knowledge we have acquired so far, but it also opens our eyes to all that we have yet to learn. The familiarity enveloped in mystery is what keeps the spark going. This is why InSight is currently at the Elysium Planitia recording subsurface measurements. This is why Perseverance will launch in the summer of 2020 to land at the Jezero crater. 

This is the kind of relationship we’ve been working on for a long time and continue to nurture. One of love and truth in the face of adversity. In spite of the challenges we face, we want to keep knowing, to understand our neighbors so that we can (as the late Carl Sagan would agree) understand ourselves. And while we may not wield super awesome planetary powers like Sailor Mars to defend Earth from the powers of Evil, we do have heroes of our own. Astronomers, scientists, and engineers who have stood by their work to waken our minds to these wonders. And perhaps even more importantly, who has shown us that no matter how wild our ambitions of discovery may be, as Motoki said – “you should never give up before you start!”. To this I should add that even after you start and the road inevitably gets tough, still, don’t ever give up. 

full article in PLASMA 6
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