We can all remember certain events that expanded our consciousness in some major way. For me, one of those was the very first time I looked through a powerful telescope at the night sky. A grade-school pal’s father’s hobby was astronomy. His telescope was quite large, mounted on a very sturdy tripod, and featured a clockwork mechanism that kept the instrument aimed at the desired object.
My friend’s dad invited me to look through the lenses at Saturn. The view made me speechless yet euphoric. The Planet with its rings was revealed. Looking more carefully, I could spot a few of its Moons. Later that night we checked out Jupiter, Earth’s Moon, and a couple of nebulae.
There was another feature that sticks out in my mind. The man’s very large star chart that he had spread out on the picnic table in his back yard. To view it, he turned on a red colored light. He explained that the red light allowed us to read the map, and not affect the adaptation of our night vision.
That night was the first of many evenings I enjoyed with my friend and his father in their back yard examining the sky. Perhaps I would have chosen astronomy as my profession if mathematics wouldn’t have been such a stumbling block.
Millions of us humans love to gaze at the sky. We’re fascinated by newly discovered views from the far reaches of the Universe. We’re excited by launches of planetary probes and observation satellites into Outer Space.
Stargazing seems like a spiritual experience. Even before the age of telescopes, Plato said, “It is clear to everyone that astronomy at all events compels the soul to look upwards, and draws it from the things of this world to the other.” Who hasn’t felt at least a glimmer of Plato’s observation, themselves?
Due to the fact that the sky is an ever present sight, it’s unsurprising that the study of it has been one of the four ancient pillars of wisdom: philosophy, ethics, alchemy (chemistry), and astronomy. Of these four, astronomy is the most awe-inspiring, mind altering field of study.
If you clear the mind of concepts and beliefs, then look at the starry sky, you may be able to experience the timeless, wordless unity of the Universe. We are a tiny portion of what is visible countless light-years away from us.
Such paradigm altering experiences have not gone unnoticed by the authorities through the ages. The intellectual visionary and modern renaissance man, Nathan Myhrvold once wrote, “People get cranky when you burst their bubble. Over time, advances in astronomy have relentlessly reinforced the utter insignificance of Earth on a celestial scale. Fortunately, political and religious leaders stopped barbecuing astronomers for saying so, turning their spits with human-rights activists instead.”
One of my wishes is that political and religious leaders will become so interested and pre-occupied with the wonders of the sky that they will stop barbecuing human-rights activists, too.