Friday, December 12, 2008

an astronomy rant

First let me preface this by saying I've always been a fan of astronomy, but don't expect this to be any kind of a current event or newsworthy post. I've studied my fair share of astronomy and I've seen just about every show that ever existed on basic cable about the field. One of them in particular summed up the universe better than any other I'd seen: Journey to the Edge of the Universe onNatGeo. Because of those pesky copyright laws, the closest video I could find was about the most important picture ever taken, be it much more compact and to the point. I appreciate its bluntness, I suppose.

Okay, look it. We live in an excruciatingly boring little neighborhood in the Universe. Our planet orbits an ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy. The Sun is one little star out of billions or trillions. The Milky Way is an average little galaxy in an average little cluster of galaxies in a super cluster of galaxies, one galaxy out of billions, which each contain billions or trillions of stars just like the sun. The picture above is only the tip of the iceberg. This is a picture looking 13 billions years into the past, and it contains an estimated 10,000 galaxies, each of them with billions upon billions of stars.

Now here comes the depressing part: I don't know how anyone can explore astronomy and not feel insignificant. The Universe is an impossibly enormous, cold, dark place. And quite frankly, we live in a BORING, quiet little neighborhood where nothing bad could ever go wrong. And oh my god could it go wrong. We could be facing extintion, meer lightyears away from being sucked into a black hole, or in the process of violently merging with another galaxy all together. The question is, will we be around long enough to see anything truly cosmically interesting happen, and will we be able to do anything about it?

The fact of the matter is, and this is a pivot point necessary to appreciate the Apollonian perspective, we're stardust floating on a rock in the vacuum of space. We are nothing, and we are everything. The next time you look down at your gold ring, that platinum jewelry, any kind of precious metal, remember that it was forged billions of years ago when two neutron stars smashed into each other with enough energy to create new fucking elements. The particles that make up everything that we see, taste and touch at every moment of our lives were created one day when a star died and will be used again someday when a new star is born. The life cycle is at its most glorious in the heavens. Nothing in the Universe is wasted, everything is connected one way or another.

Now, as for getting into what that picture means. It means everything! I haven't got the time to get into the probability of life on other planets, how that impacts our view of the Universe, interstellar travel (or how we could ever begin to fathom the significance of the Universe being 78 billion light years across), or ANY of the multitude of things we just don't know. I just wish this human evolution thing would hurry along, because we are weak and insignificant compared to the raw power of the cosmos. It never ceases to blow my mind.

btw, don't ask me why the numa numa kid pops up in the middle of this video. -.-

THE solid85


Rox Fontaine said...

GREAT post, Man! I was wowed by the great expanse of space myself just a short while ago. I took my family to Florida for Thanksgiving and my son is interested in becoming an astronaut so I took him to Kennedy Space Center. We had lunch with an astronaut and spent the whole day exploring and learning new things. It was amazing.

THEsolid85 said...

My sister lives in Orlando so I've been to the Kennedy Space Center a couple times while traveling around down there. I think the thing that threw me off hte astronaut path was all the math I would've had to learn. Calculus = no thank you.