Monday, May 01, 2006

I know May 1st is the 3rd anniversary of George Bush’s now infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech. I know almost no one thinks we’ve accomplished the mission in Iraq. Don’t believe that? Go read this. See? The American people are not a totally gullible lot. Partly gullible they might be, but not totally.

Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe the mission was indeed accomplished. Maybe Bush wanted to get us bogged down in a civil war and risk bankrupting the USA. If that’s the case then he has overachieved indeed.

I know you expect me to go on some 750-word rant about how awful this war really is. But I feel like I’ve said my peace on that topic. So I shall instead discuss happier things.

Sixteen years ago the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched. It has changed the way we look at the Universe. We have seen galaxies where we expected to see very little. (The Hubble Deep Field) Back in 1996 astronomers took an extremely long exposure in an area near Ursa Major. They had wanted to see what inhabited this otherwise empty looking tract of sky. They were hoping for maybe primordial galaxies. What they saw instead were over 1,500 galaxies in various stages of evolution. It was one of HST’s most spectacular moments.

The HST has also helped us date the Universe with greater precision. It’s about 13.7 billion years old, if you’re curious. It gave us a front row to Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s collision with Jupiter. It gave us a truly spectacular view of M16, the Eagle Nebula, showing us newborn stars.

The Hubble Space Telescope has truly been a revolutionary instrument. I hope it can go on for years in the future. Though there has been sporadic talk to abandoning it. That would be a crime. Why would we want to abandon an instrument that makes us more enlightened as to our place in the cosmos? It makes no sense. Then again, neither does most of government.

I love to write about stuff like this. Astronomy is one of my tethers to sanity in an increasingly insane world. If standing under the infinite dome of the sky doesn’t give you religion I don’t know that will. In this world of accomplished missions where very little makes sense, the symmetry and beauty of the sky makes perfect sense.

I mean astronomy isn’t the only thing that I lean on. Music is another. I mean I’m practically giddy that Pearl Jam and Tool are both releasing CDs on May 2nd. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

But the sanctuary I fine under the night sky is quite hard to beat. In fact I recommend it to everyone. Just take yourself, you can take friends if you want, out to somewhere free of the glow of streetlights and find a comfortable place to sit. You won’t need books or telescopes or anything other than your eyes. Then look skyward and drink it all in. Don’t worry about what that constellation is named or where that star is. Just sit back and gaze at the sky in all its infinite glory. The ancients used to put their gods in the sky for good reason. People that don’t sit in awe of the glorious night sky make me a bit nervous. I fail to see how any right-minded individual wouldn’t be amazed by the most spectacular sight in all creation. I somewhat fear these people are a little dead on the inside.

Maybe that’s the problem; all the politicians and business executives live in cities that can’t see the stars. Maybe if they’d get out of the anxiety that is a big city and gaze at something bigger then any of us we’d live in a better place. It wouldn’t hurt to try.

“Though my soul may set in darkness,
It will rise in perfect light,
I have loved the stars too fondly
To be fearful of the night”

Sarah Williams


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