Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Lecture notes

And Beyond

The clouds rolled overhead, the stars winking between the cracks in the sky like God catching your eye and saying “I got you.”  I was sprawled out, flat on my back in the dry spring grass, driven outside from a week of stress and uncertainty. The frogs sang in the night, welcoming spring, and the telescope patiently waited for the sky to clear (just like it always does.)  It did, and to the starship I sprang, peering out into Infinity. Ah, there it was. NGC 3593, a starburst galaxy, floated into view, a ghost of a cotton ball in empty space, churning out massive numbers of new stars, yet at twenty million light years, barely visible as a flicker of a thought.  If a light year is roughly 6 trillion miles away, and this is 20 million light years away, that means it’’s...120 million trillion miles away.  Another way to look at it is: there were giant sharks swimming in an ocean above us in the Miocene age when that photon started it’s journey towards my eye.  And remember: this isn’t particularly far away. I regularly observe galaxies two, three, even six times farther away, and that’s from my front yard.  

  This ancient starlight had a healing effect on my worried mind.  For the first time in a week, I felt myself again. Packing up the scope and closing up for the night, the rumble of the trash can wheels on the driveway had a comforting effect of routine, and another thought emerged like the glimmer of the stars of the Big Dipper behind a cloudbank.  It was the marvel that here in this universe of distances unfathomable, I was able to do something that the massive engines of nuclear fission (stars) were unable to achieve - namely, to make the choice to take out the trash. It’s easy to slide into the morass of nihilism in both times of trouble or when gazing into the Abyss of the cosmos.  What does it matter? Well, this simple act does. Right choice swirls with starlight, consciousness stretching along the light years, and the constellations wheel high overhead, nothing above the treetops for a hundred thousand years.    

  It’s truly been a delight to plumb the depths of a few of the mysteries of the Infinite with you.  This series has been a pleasure. I’d like to encourage you to take the next step - start applying that consciousness to expand your gaze outwards to the heavens.  Why? I don’t know. However, there are certainties.  The marveling at the dance of the stars, the advil-sponsored ponderings of the workings of the physics of black holes, and the wide-eyed wonder that a twinkling star invokes in me...all of this has made me grateful to be part of this universe, whatever it is.  

  How might one proceed?  Why, there’s plenty of ways.  Look at the science news. Visit the websites, get your mind puzzled with the physics videos on YouTube.  If you’re so inclined, snag an inexpensive pair of binoculars and a star chart. And, when the wind comes whispering through the night trees, go catch a glimpse of the rising moon.  I think you’ll be glad that you did. I know I always am.  

Clear skies!

  • Josh

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