Much of the evidence we have supports the basic Copernican view that we are mediocre.
Yet at the same time, there are specifics about our environment that say otherwise.
Our species has sprung into existence within the barest instant of this universe's enormously long span of history, and it looks like there will be an even longer future that may or may not contain us.
The quest to try to find our place, to discover our relevance, can seem like a monumental joke.
In that remarkable descent, sliding down the ladder of physical dimensions, into the thriving universe within us, was one of the first clues that the components of our bodies, our arrays of molecular structures, exist at one extreme end of a spectrum of biological scales.
Until van Leeuwenhoek's moment of surprise, I doubt that humans had the opportunity to think about this fact in anything more than a superficial way.All indications are that today we also live at an interface or border in time, a transition between a period of stellar and planetary youth and one of encroaching decrepitude.Our existence in this period of relative calm is, in retrospect, not so surprising.This does not mean that we are assured a quiet and peaceful future—state-of-the-art gravitational simulations indicate that a few hundred million years along, a more chaotic period could overtake our system.And another five billion years into the future the sun will inflate with the onset of a spasmodic old age and quite drastically revise the properties of its array of planets.If you were an architect of planetary systems, you would consider ours to be an outlier, a little bit off from the norm.Some of these characteristics stem from the fact that our solar system has escaped wholesale dynamical rearrangement, compared with the majority of planetary systems.How do we begin to pull together our knowledge of the cosmos—from bacteria to the big bang—to explain whether or not we are special?And as we learn more about our place in the universe, what does it all imply for our efforts to find out if there are other living things out there? In the 1600s tradesman and scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek used his hand-built microscopes to become the first human to see bacteria, a journey that took him into the alien world of the microcosm.As with so many other aspects of our circumstances, we live in a temperate place, not too hot or cold, not too chemically caustic or chemically inert, neither too unsettled nor too unchanging.It is also now apparent that this astrophysically calm neighborhood extends well beyond our local galaxy.