Why I Like Astronomy

October 13, 2010

Most of the time, I root myself in the arts and humanities. English and history are my domains of comfort. Rarely do I venture outside of them into the cold and frightening worlds of science and math (important disclaimer: I actually like science and math, they’re just not my “happy place”).

There is, however, one notable exception. I like astronomy. You may even call me an astronomy nerd. As a young teenager, I spent two consecutive summers at Space Camp. Yes, that Space Camp: the one where you live in a space musuem, try NASA simulators, and “fly” a life-sized space shuttle mock-up. I loved it.

I know my way around the sky pretty well. They have yet to create a telescope that’s Arvik-proof, but I get along fine with my astronomical binoculars. Mounted on a tripod, they look like someone absconded with WALL-E’s eyes.

It’s interesting, when you go to one of those plantetarium shows, the lights dim, and a deep-and-sonorous voice says something along the lines of, “Since the dawn of time, man has wondered if we are alone….” Then the stars flare up and you’re supposed to feel very small in the face of the mysterious and immense Universe.

I do feel small when I look at the night sky. But not in the “Oh, I’m just a pathetic human on a pebble orbiting a nondescript star!” kind of way. For me, it’s more the way a cog in a machine might feel. Small, yes, but connected to a much, much larger whole.

Maybe that’s why I’ve never felt particularly alone while star-gazing. Aliens aside, there’s something deeply comforting about being able to go out and find all your “friends.” Take the planets. Not all of them are visible at all times. When I see one that’s been out of the neighbourhood for a while, I can’t help a feeling of reunion, of, “Hey, Saturn’s back!” Likewise with the constellations. I’m enjoying Andromeda’s company right now, but I’m already itching to see Orion. Throw in a little background knowledge of the myths and figures these random groupings of stars represent, and not only are you connected to the Universe, you’ve got a link back to your own human history.

Uncountable stars

And just think about the way the Universe is structured. Here’s where awe hits, whether or not you feel we’re alone out here. Think of this. Our galaxy has at least 100 billion stars. If you tried to count them all, at an average of one/second without breaks for food or sleep, it would take you over 3000 years. Further, our galaxy is part of a local cluster of galaxies of comparable size to our own. So many how stars are in all of those galaxies? In our observable universe, the number of stars is roughly the same as every grain of dry sand on every beach on Earth. Just think of it: billions upon billions upon billions of stars; all burning and glowing in an ever-increasing void.

But wait, there’s more! Those galaxies aren’t just scattered through the Universe at random. There’s structure here, too. Clusters and superclusters form vast lines and filaments that hang in the vacuum. I cannot look at pictures of these filaments without feeling… something. Some sense that there is something bigger than us, some sense that there has to be something else out there. Some sense that we really are connected to everything else out there, tiny backwater of a planet we may be.

These aren't stars. They are *clusters* of galaxies.


And that is why I like astronomy.




  1. Interesting how the clusters of galaxies looks like synapses in the brain.

    We have much more to learn and discover . . . even from a simple glass of water:


    You look up, using binnoculars and telesopes, to see our connection with, well, everything. Others look into microscopes and see . . . the same connectedness.

    The Universe rocks!

  2. Sorry, that’s not the link. This is:


  3. It certainly looks like a network, doesn’t it? Order, structure, and clockwork, yet somehow incredibly random and wild. I’m sure we’ll understand it better someday.


  4. To me, the fact that we know even this much is amazing… but there’s always more to discover. 😉

    And I love the parallels between the very large and the very small; the resemblance to brain synapses blows me away, and makes me very, very happy.

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