Of all the kinds of unlikely scary stories humans have told each other about what might be 'out there', to me, this is the scariest. Our thanks to Rebecca Orchard for the grim details:
Rebecca Orchard is a fiction writer in the PhD program at Florida State University, and her work about the Voyager Golden Record has been profiled in the Guardian, BBC World Service Newshour, and Atlas Obscura.
Before Riverside Church’s bell tower closed to visitors after 9/11, tourists could not only get a dizzying view of New York City from the tower’s windows, they could also stand beneath the cavernous vault of its bells, including the massive bourdon. In a carillon, the bourdon is the lowest-sounding bell, and Riverside’s is 20 tons, the largest tuned bell in the world. I was about nine when I visited Riverside, and when I stepped under the bourdon’s arch of bronze I peered up into a hollow yawn of metal, a gulp of nothingness, and felt a shudder of deep, knee-melting fear.
This fear of chasms is common. We draw back from precipices; many dread swimming the deep sea. And the only way to make the chasm tolerable is to break it down into component parts: the topography of the ocean floor, the cartilage of a shark’s nose, the drift of anemone arms in the current. Which is, of course, what we do to space, too.
The Earth is so busy, pinging with light and crunched with highways and dinner parties and mountains and maps of the cosmos that delineate zones of the deep in relation to us, warm and alive and avoiding neighbors in the grocery store. We are able to forget that we are pressed on all sides by an emptiness so foreign and poisonous and big that grappling with it is like grappling with our own mortality.
So we clutch our humid green planet close, and we send hopeful blips into the void, looking up, trusting that somewhere there is a cessation of that emptiness, some life in the chasm, a voice whose presence will give us a metric to measure by. We’re not suspended, alone, in an inanimate grip; we are a certain distance from others. But—and here again is that deep and shuddering fear—those blips might arrow forward unceasingly, the rock dropped into a well whose depth is so great we cannot hear a splash.