whole earth

Why Astronomy?

Knowledge of the amazing Universe we inhabit can alter people's perspectives; I would urge every thinking person to educate themselves on the vistas that astronomers have revealed. This might begin with the wonderful pictures of Earth suspended in the blackness of space, a reminder that this beautiful oasis is very special, finite, and potentially fragile.

This view also reminds us that the affairs of humankind, so powerfully present in our daily lives, are humbly small in the vastness of all that surrounds us. We also get a glimpse of the immense spread of time; the Earth formed billions of years ago and will live for billions of years more. The view of Earth from space also reminds us that the power of intellect has revealed an incredible astronomical story.

We can read from wisps of radiation how, from tiny wrinkles in space and time, came all the stucture we see: galaxies, stars, and planets arrayed as far as our sophisticated instruments can detect. We know how stars are born, live and die to seed the galaxy with the elements of life. We know that black holes litter galaxies, including giants in the centers. We have found that the universe is made mostly of stuff unlike ourselves, a dark gravitating matter, and, more recently and more shocking, an antigravitating force that pervades the universe and challenges physics at its roots. We have found planets around other stars, and the race to discover life elsewhere is in full-throated roar. Following this unfolding story can inspire wonder and awe that transcend our daily concerns.

--J. Craig Wheeler

Alcalde, January/February 2005, p 35. Image courtesy NASA.

30 September 2005
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