Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Science Fiction Writer Looks at Stars

As part of a school auction at Open Windows school, we bought a star party. That's the ability to go hang out with very serious amateur astronomers and look through their telescopes at the summer night sky. We loved it.

We saw nebulae, galaxies, binary stars, and four of the moons of Jupiter.

Two interesting observations came of the evening.

One: This is how many of the great discoveries of our world were made. Earnest, curious people watching the stars. I've been reading a lot about the Mayan civilization getting ready to do some writing set there, and much of their world-view and religious beliefs appear to have been defined by the stars. That, and these men (Almost everyone up there was male) are probably not that different than Galileo, except that they have better equipment. One of them had a great 20" telescope on a huge motor, so tall you had to use a ladder to look through the eyepiece. They reminded me of the rocket scientists I met at the Space Access conference a few years ago, bright and capable and driven. People with the ability to make a difference.

Two: We're very small. We know that. Looking at the night sky with unaided vision tells us that. There is much to protect and nurture here, but there is far more out there. The vast unknown. That time scales alone are astronomical (pun intended). The light we captured in the telescopes came from both a long ways away and a long time away. Looking at other galaxies is a very good reminder of how insignificant we may be in the scheme of the universe. And, somehow, a reminder to value what we have here that is precious.


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