What is it about the universe?

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Christian G.
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What is it about the universe?

Post by Christian G. » Tue May 02, 2023 1:25 am

Hi everyone,
I'm fairly new here, as the naïveté of my question suggests. Here is more context: I can't think of a single domain in human activities where knowledge fuels passion as much as in astronomy. For instance I'm also a music lover, and if I'd listen to a Bach masterpiece and a musicologist by my side explained this or that aspect of the piece, it would add little to my musical experience, it might even ruin it! But if you see for the first time in your first telescope a faint and fuzzy object with nothing much to it at first sight, and someone explains to you: "This, my friend, is a galaxy... You are looking at over 100 billion stars at once!" - WOW!! is your answer. You are now in total awe before the fuzzy object! Thanks to your newly acquired knowledge. And soon will follow newly acquired telescopes too...

The more knowledge you gain, the greater your awe, and the greater your awe, the more you seek knowledge. Truly, I can't think of a field that bonds contemplation and science more powerfully.

The popular astronomy books I have enjoyed reading the most were those containing simple words that capture the "experience", for instance I always remember a discrete expression used by Carl Sagan in Cosmos, the "ecstatic grandeur" of the universe, and to me these two words nailed it! As does this simple excerpt from Stephen Hawking: "We live in a strange and wonderful universe. Its age, size, violence and beauty require extraordinary imagination to appreciate". I remember as I read slowly "its age… size… violence…beauty…", I thought, my, these words cover it all, supernovae and gamma-ray bursts included… (and I suppose "its billions of galaxies with billions of stars each" are implied in "beauty"…)

In any case, if anyone here wishes to share what words you would use or what aspect you would highlight to express what this wonderful science is for you, please do! - So, what's so special about the universe?

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Ann
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Re: What is it about the universe?

Post by Ann » Tue May 02, 2023 5:24 am

I was 14 when I saw 2001- A Space Odyssey, and it knocked me for a loop. So I went to the library to borrow a book about space. That book told me that all stars are suns. I couldn't believe it. That same night I went out to look at the stars. And I asked myself, if those tiny little lights are suns, how far away must they be?

The next year, when I was 15, I was a budding space aficionado. One winter day my parents' newspaper wrote that now was a good time to look at the Andromeda galaxy, and I decided to give it a go. So that night I grabbed my parents' binoculars and went out in the back yard. But I got lost when I looked at the sky through the binoculars, as nameless points of light floated in and out of my field of view, and after many failed attempts to find Andromeda, my arms started shaking.

So I lay down on the snowy ground. Now it was much easier holding my arms steady. And suddenly, after I had seen brilliant icy white points of stars move in and out of my binoculars, suddenly a soft, pale yellow patch sailed into my field of view. I gasped. I tried harder than ever to hold my arms steady, because catching Andromeda had been like catching a magnificent fish: Unless you hold on steady, it is going to get away!

And to think that the yellow patch that was quivering in my binoculars was a conglomerate of billions of stars! Suddenly it dawned on me: I was looking at somebody's home. There was somebody there in that pale fuzz of the heavens. If I hadn't been concentrating so hard on holding my arms steady, I would have waved at the people of Andromeda.

At the same time I grew aware of the snowy ground below me, and the entire Earth curving away from me in all directions. I suddenly realized that I was plunging headlong into space on spaceship Earth, sailing blindly along on its long, long journey around our galaxy. It was dizzying. I have never before or since felt so connected to the Earth and the cosmos around me.

Ann
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Christian G.
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Re: What is it about the universe?

Post by Christian G. » Tue May 02, 2023 1:58 pm

Ann wrote: Tue May 02, 2023 5:24 am I was 14 when I saw 2001- A Space Odyssey, and it knocked me for a loop. So I went to the library to borrow a book about space. That book told me that all stars are suns. I couldn't believe it. That same night I went out to look at the stars. And I asked myself, if those tiny little lights are suns, how far away must they be?

The next year, when I was 15, I was a budding space aficionado. One winter day my parents' newspaper wrote that now was a good time to look at the Andromeda galaxy, and I decided to give it a go. So that night I grabbed my parents' binoculars and went out in the back yard. But I got lost when I looked at the sky through the binoculars, as nameless points of light floated in and out of my field of view, and after many failed attempts to find Andromeda, my arms started shaking.

So I lay down on the snowy ground. Now it was much easier holding my arms steady. And suddenly, after I had seen brilliant icy white points of stars move in and out of my binoculars, suddenly a soft, pale yellow patch sailed into my field of view. I gasped. I tried harder than ever to hold my arms steady, because catching Andromeda had been like catching a magnificent fish: Unless you hold on steady, it is going to get away!

And to think that the yellow patch that was quivering in my binoculars was a conglomerate of billions of stars! Suddenly it dawned on me: I was looking at somebody's home. There was somebody there in that pale fuzz of the heavens. If I hadn't been concentrating so hard on holding my arms steady, I would have waved at the people of Andromeda.

At the same time I grew aware of the snowy ground below me, and the entire Earth curving away from me in all directions. I suddenly realized that I was plunging headlong into space on spaceship Earth, sailing blindly along on its long, long journey around our galaxy. It was dizzying. I have never before or since felt so connected to the Earth and the cosmos around me.

Ann
I'm so glad you did not try to nail it with just two words! "I suddenly realized that I was plunging headlong into space on spaceship Earth, sailing blindly along on its long, long journey around our galaxy. It was dizzying. I have never before or since felt so connected to the Earth and the cosmos around me" . Good grief, I bet Sagan would have applauded this!

As for movies, 2001 - A Space Odyssey, what else! When the astronaut is zipping through surreal space at the end and we see huge close-ups of his totally stunned eye just riveted to the spectacle, as though he did not want to miss an iota of it, just as us while watching this scene of utmost anthology.
There's also the movie Contact, and while certainly no Kubrick movie, still, the awe is there in the actors. On the other hand Interstellar, which got my hopes high at first with the special effects I was hearing about, falls flat in terms of magic and awe, heck when the protagonist sees an actual wormhole he is hardly impressed!
(and there's also Melancholia, what sublime cosmic images…)(of course good movies can succeed far better than words at conveying wonder)

And guess what, I'm crazy about fishing! And I have made similar parallels with astronomy, when you finally find that elusive galaxy lurking in deep space, you get a thrill of a nature similar to seeing some long dark barely visible shadow following your lure from the depths, and you shake with excitement, and you're the one that's hooked, and you can't wait to go back to the same spot the next day and see and perhaps catch that mighty shadow, and you want pictures, and you want to tell everybody about what you saw, etc, etc... (and often both these passions are rooted in your childhood)

Thank you for your response...

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THX1138
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Re: What is it about the universe?

Post by THX1138 » Sat May 13, 2023 12:03 am

I like the way you answer questions Ann, you are A-1
As for myself it wasn't 2001 space odyssey or any other movies and while I do enjoy the whole space and time bit, light speed and all the rest my thing is simply the awe inspiring beauty of the heavens, the galaxies, nebulas and ETC. to infinity.
My only complaint where the universe is concerned is that our human eyes haven't evolved enough to see the full beauty of it all as its my understanding that, that with which we look at is more colorful than our eyes are able to distinguish.
Where did I first see the images of which I speak? Carl Sagan's Special on TV
I've come to the conclusion that when i said i wanted to be somebody when i grew up i probably should have been more specific

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Chris Peterson
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Re: What is it about the universe?

Post by Chris Peterson » Sat May 13, 2023 1:52 am

THX1138 wrote: Sat May 13, 2023 12:03 am I like the way you answer questions Ann, you are A-1
As for myself it wasn't 2001 space odyssey or any other movies and while I do enjoy the whole space and time bit, light speed and all the rest my thing is simply the awe inspiring beauty of the heavens, the galaxies, nebulas and ETC. to infinity.
My only complaint where the universe is concerned is that our human eyes haven't evolved enough to see the full beauty of it all as its my understanding that, that with which we look at is more colorful than our eyes are able to distinguish.
Where did I first see the images of which I speak? Carl Sagan's Special on TV
It is impossible for eyes to ever see more than a fraction, given that the optical part of the electromagnetic spectrum is but the tiniest slice of what can be "seen". We'd need a half-dozen different sensory organs, at the least, to start getting a full image of the Universe.
Chris

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Rauf
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Re: What is it about the universe?

Post by Rauf » Tue May 16, 2023 2:18 pm

Ann wrote: Tue May 02, 2023 5:24 am I was 14 when I saw 2001- A Space Odyssey, and it knocked me for a loop. So I went to the library to borrow a book about space. That book told me that all stars are suns. I couldn't believe it. That same night I went out to look at the stars. And I asked myself, if those tiny little lights are suns, how far away must they be?

The next year, when I was 15, I was a budding space aficionado. One winter day my parents' newspaper wrote that now was a good time to look at the Andromeda galaxy, and I decided to give it a go. So that night I grabbed my parents' binoculars and went out in the back yard. But I got lost when I looked at the sky through the binoculars, as nameless points of light floated in and out of my field of view, and after many failed attempts to find Andromeda, my arms started shaking.

So I lay down on the snowy ground. Now it was much easier holding my arms steady. And suddenly, after I had seen brilliant icy white points of stars move in and out of my binoculars, suddenly a soft, pale yellow patch sailed into my field of view. I gasped. I tried harder than ever to hold my arms steady, because catching Andromeda had been like catching a magnificent fish: Unless you hold on steady, it is going to get away!

And to think that the yellow patch that was quivering in my binoculars was a conglomerate of billions of stars! Suddenly it dawned on me: I was looking at somebody's home. There was somebody there in that pale fuzz of the heavens. If I hadn't been concentrating so hard on holding my arms steady, I would have waved at the people of Andromeda.

At the same time I grew aware of the snowy ground below me, and the entire Earth curving away from me in all directions. I suddenly realized that I was plunging headlong into space on spaceship Earth, sailing blindly along on its long, long journey around our galaxy. It was dizzying. I have never before or since felt so connected to the Earth and the cosmos around me.

Ann

When I was around 6 years old and I wasn't even going to school, there was this flash game I found on my brother's PC. It was a simple puzzle, in which you had to place the planets in distance order around the sun. And when the puzzle was complete, the planets started orbiting the sun. Suddenly, I remember I felt scared, and too small. Till that point, I always imagined the world around is my city and some other cities which people lived in, and that's it. But upon realizing that there are entire planets out there, and they are all orbiting the same sun I see on the sky everyday.

I asked my older sister about it, and she described to me how other planets are different, and come in different sizes. Some have more than 10 moons! I imagined standing on Jupiter (I had no idea it was gaseous) and looking at 16 bright moons instead of one. It felt, so scary and so exciting at the same time. I asked for a telescope, but they told me it's expensive and I had to get older. Then I asked for books and I got some kid books about the solar system, and then I realized, to my horror, that all those stars are actually bigger than sun! For me, astronomy became my passion. I read whatever book I could find.

Years passed and I still craved to see a telescope up close. Then I heard about our local astronomy club, and I decided to join. No one in our school seemed really interested when I talked about the sky, but there I found some people older than me that actually loved the night sky the same way I did. Since then, I've became a member, and my passion grows every day, and I'm still saving money to buy a good telescope :)

For me, Astronomy is the science of studying the whole world. It encompasses everything, from Physics and math, to Biology. I think it's the ultimate form of science, because, we humans are curious beings. And one of the most curious things is where do we actually live, and that's the cosmos. I've tried so hard to make people around me interested in the heavens above them, to make them realize that the place they are living in, is just a small part of a very, very big universe. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes not.

Whenever I see people interested in our universe, I get excited, like now. So I'm sorry If I got carried away sometimes, It's just that this forum is a really great place and I really love it here. Thanks for creating this forum.

Christian G.
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Re: What is it about the universe?

Post by Christian G. » Tue Aug 08, 2023 4:52 pm

In his book NightWatch, Terence Dickinson sure doesn't hold back, he calls it a "love affair"! Great passage:

"Backyard astronomers are a special breed. They savor their moments under the stars. They have an infatuation - a love affair - with the cosmos that grows and nurtures itself just as meaningful human relationships do. Of course, it is a less definable one-way relationship, but I have come to regard that feeling as the closest I can ever come to being at one with nature. After a night under the stars, I have a sense of mellowness, an amalgam of humility, wonder and discovery. The universe is beautiful, in both the visual and the spiritual sense."