Sunday, November 13, 2005

In 1994 two fairly major astronomical events occurred. There was an annular eclipse of the Sun in May and later that summer Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter. They changed my life forever.

There I was a curious but unfocused lad of 23 years. I went out and saw both events. Neither overwhelmed me in all honesty, but they did spark my curiosity. So off I went to the local magazine shop and bought some magazines and started to learn. I looked around with some old 6x30 binoculars that were my father’s. I was lousy at first. I couldn’t find a whole lot of nothing. So I bought a telescope. I found a little more but not a whole lot. But in spite of my lack of skills my curiosity remained. So I tried and learned and made new friends and eventually became a pretty good stargazer. I’m no Stephen James O’Meara but I try and I really enjoy it.

Astronomy was the first hobby I took up that I actually accomplished something at. I, probably like most of you, have taken a good many hobbies in my day. Sure I sucked and failed at most of them and most of those skills are now long gone. But, for some reason I really stuck with astronomy and even though it has given me so much wonder and happiness. It has given even more back to me.

It has taught me patience. If you are not patient, please do yourself a favor and avoid stargazing. It requires a lot of patience and persistence to be successful like most everything worth doing. I was terribly impatient and unfocused until I discovered astronomy. I’m still not exactly focused like a ninja but I’m much better.

It made me see the Universe for the vast incomprehensible machine it is. When you see and begin to in some small way understand how big it all is. You start to feel very small and large at the same time. You feel small because let’s face I you are. You feel large because you glimpse at how big it all is and you feel very connected to it all. It’s wonderfully humbling and empowering.

It introduced me to great thinkers. Once I started read Carl Sagan, a personal hero of mine, it was like the veil was lifted. Through him my curious little mind started to study other great thinkers like Albert Einstein and Thomas Paine and Galileo and Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Every time I read these wonderful minds’ thoughts I’m reminded of the Stephen Hawking quote, “I have only seen so far because I stood on the shoulders of giants.”

I started to understand how to reason out problems and think better. Once I was exposed to the tools of critical thinking and science I became much more logical and less biased. Thinking your way through problems is a beautiful thing. As an added bonus you end up in a lot less trouble.

Keep looking up.


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