“I like the stars. It’s the illusion of permanence, I think. I mean, they’re always flaring up and caving in and going out. But from here, I can pretend…I can pretend that things last. I can pretend that lives last longer than moments. Gods come, and gods go. Mortals flicker and flash and fade. Worlds don’t last; and stars and galaxies are transient, fleeting things that twinkle like fireflies and vanish into cold and dust. But I can pretend…”
― Neil Gaiman,
Allow me to embrace my inner space geek for a while…
There is nothing more beautiful in my life right now than swinging on my hammock on my front porch and looking up at the night sky. Here, just south of the Equator, in Tanzania, the stars and planets are crystal clear and I find myself lost in the stars for many an hour.
Throughout time, the sky has piqued our curiosity. Eclipses, thecycle of the seasons, the rising and setting of the Moon, Sun, and planets, the motion of the stars — all have fascinated human beings since our earliest ancestors first looked up. Monuments constructed across our home planet, from Stonehenge to Machu Picchu, bear witness to our ancient and endless fascination with the stars.
We have to wonder where this constant fascination with the skies comes from. Even if the stars are way out there, distant and unreachable, we still feel and seek a deep connection with them. In the modern scientific attempt to study the skies, we identify the same longing for meaning that drove our ancestors to look up and worship the gods. Our amazing telescopes, such as the Very Large Telescope and the ALMA facility operated by the European Southern Observatory in Chile, or the cluster of amazing telescopes atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, are testimonies to our modern urge to continue to decipher the heavens. We know the answers are there, waiting.
Something I love is how the circle closes when we realize that we ourselves are made of star stuff. The atoms that make up our bodies and everything around us came from stars that died over five billion years ago. To know this, to know that we can trace our material origins to our universe is to bridge our existence to the cosmos. We have discovered that we are beings made of stars that can ponder our origins and destiny. And the circle continues…
This worldview that modern science brought about is nothing short of wonderful; and in doing so, it continues and gives meaning to our ancestors’ urges to understand and decipher the skies. They were looking up to find their origin – we looked up and found it.