by Reina Reyes
- Published: Thursday, April 24 2014 10:39
However way you twist it, the blunt truth is that our study of the heavens does not directly impact everyday life on Earth (astrology notwithstanding). Our discoveries do not feed hungry people, cure sick people, or better the lives of poor people. Yet, our ever-expanding understanding of the heavens has profoundly shaped-- and will continue to profoundly shape-- how the human race thinks of itself and its place in the cosmos. I believe that this works at an individual level as well. My own study of astronomy has deeply influenced my worldview and perspective in life. With latitude, please allow me to share a couple of these astro-philosophical life lessons.
I am not the center of the Universe
Contrary to what our senses "clearly" tell us, the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, and neither do the stars. In fact, it is the Earth that goes around the Sun-- once in a year-- and the stars only seem to circle around because the Earth itself rotates on its axis-- once in a day. The Sun itself is making its way around the center of the Milky Way galaxy-- itself composed of hundreds of billions of suns-- once every 225 million years. In the grandest scale of the cosmos, the Earth, our entire home, is but a small speck of dust-- or in Carl Sagan's poetic phrase: a pale blue dot.
Similarly, contrary to what what my senses "clearly" tell me, I am not the center of the Universe. It seems that way to me because I see everything from my perspective-- the thoughts I have are my thoughts, the emotions I feel are my feelings, the actions I take are mine, and mine alone. Things don't simply happen; they happen to me. But, in fact, the world does not revolve around me. I am but one out of the 7 billion human beings alive today, one out of all the generations that came before, and all that will come after, inhabiting this pale blue dot we all call home.
Everything has a beginning and an end
The Universe and everything in it evolves-- from birth to death. This is true for our Sun (and all stars), our Galaxy (and all galaxies), and yes, even our Universe (and for other universes as well, if they exist). The timescales involved are so much longer than what we encounter in the everyday that they can be hard to grasp, but they are, like us, finite.
Against this grand scale over eons of time, my own lifetime-- spanning around eighty Earth orbits around the Sun (if I'm lucky), out of ten billion orbits over the Sun's lifetime-- is a mere blip. It is all I am given-- and it is enough.
We're all in this together
The Earth from space is a sight to behold. It's all there-- every mountain, every river, every tree, every ant, every fish, every bird, every elephant, and every human that lives-- and has ever lived-- is part of the planet, in one form or another. From up there, there are no countries-- only land, air, water, ice. Everything is connected with everything else.
Are there other Earths elsewhere? Could the Galaxy-- indeed, the Universe-- be teeming with life? We don't know yet, but we may find out soon. Some may not be ready for an answer in the affirmative, but the more we consider the possibility, I hope, the more we realize how closely related we are-- that we are part of one human family, and that we're all in this together.
Reina Reyes is currently an assistant professor at Ateneo de Manila University and research scientist at the Manila Observatory in the Philippines. You can reach her at: www.facebook.com/reinabelle.