The past few years have given us some truly awe inspiring and wonderous astronomical phenomena.
Some were easily observed with the naked eye while others required the use of a telescope. The recent eclipse of the sun by the moon seemed to have caught the imagination of many.
Our early ancestors looked up at the night sky in wonder as well. One can only speculate what they might have thought of a total eclipse. We do know from archaeological evidence that the sun, moon and stars did play a significant role in their everyday lives. The earliest historical records of astronomical measurements date back to Mesopotamia of 5,000 years ago. Observations were also made by the ancient Babylonians, Greeks and Chinese. Many of these early societies held beliefs that the affairs of man were controlled by the movement and positions of the sun, moon, stars and planets. Although astrology is now more or less regarded as a pseudo science, it was the original incentive for the mapping of the stars and assignment of names for the constellations.
Astronomy today has become much more than the simply a mapping of stars and planets into outlines of mythological gods and magical creatures; It is the scientific study of the contents of the entire universe as we know it, with all its stars, planets, comets, asteroids, nebulae, galaxies and unknown wonders that lie beyond.
While observing the night sky with the naked eye one really can get a sense of wonder. Looking at the universe through a telescope, well, that a whole different thing altogether. All that’s required to “sky watch” is a star chart or map of the sky which will enable you to determine what you are looking at. You can download star charts free from the Internet.
Once equipped with your star chart, you will need to find some place that is dark enough to begin observing the sky – some place that is far enough away from the glare of city lights. While observing the heavens above with the naked eye and a star chart, you may get an incite into how those long ago, ancient astronomers might have studied the night sky. It may sound sort of strange for a person of my age, but sometimes I just like to lay down on the grass and look up at the night sky above. It takes on a whole other dimension from such a position. It sort of gives you a feeling of being all alone, drifting across a vast universe filled with planets and stars.
Once you look through a telescope though, everything changes – a whole new wondrous world literally opens up right in front of your eyes.
It’s even more wondrous when you consider the fact that the stars you see through your telescope appear as they were hundreds of thousands of years ago. What you are seeing is reflected light that has traveled though time and space for millennia until reaching planet Earth. What you are seeing may have, in actual fact, ceased to even exist tens of thousands of years ago.
All I know is that, when I turn on the television, I see images of war and famine, hurricanes and flooding, the effects of climate change and global warming and all that we have done to bring this planet to the proverbial edge. When I look through a telescope into the universe, I cannot help but feel a sense of shame on one hand and a sense of optimism on the other. We have done much to harm the very planet that hosts us as a species and yet, in spite of narrow minds, have also reached out into the cosmos and begun to explore the unknown. Ever since Galileo first pointed his telescope towards the planets, we have been asking questions and searching for answers. In the process of finding answers, we have managed to set foot on the moon, built the Hubble telescope and begun to send exploratory craft to other planets. We have taken small steps and giant leaps and all because of those early astronomers who looked up at the night sky in wonder and asked the simple question: why? We have, indeed, begun to go where no man has gone before.
While I may never get to set foot on another planet, I can at least console myself with the fact that there is a new Star Trek movie coming out.
I only hope it is as good as the last three.