“Things are not as simple as they were supposed to be, with the planets staying quiet forever,” says Alessandro Morbidelli, a planetary dynamics expert at the Nice Observatory in France. “When the planets form they don’t know they have to form on good orbits to be stable for billions of years! So they are stable temporarily, but are not stable for the lifetime of the star.”
Translation: Earth was forged in chaos, lives in chaos, and may well end in chaos.
While Morbidelli is explaining all this to me in a cheery Italian accent, I cannot help fixating on the grim connotations of his last name. He and his scientific compatriots are amplifying a recent realization about our celestial home: Instability is our natural state. For centuries, Isaac Newton and his followers envisioned a solar system that runs like divine clockwork. Only in the past decade have high-precision mathematical simulations shown just how wrong he was. Carl Sagan famously declared that “we’re made of star stuff.” Morbidelli has an equally profound message: We are made of cosmic chaos.