Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Look at What the Hubble Sees. I Stand in Awe.
When I was a child I was taught that Earth was a special place. It alone harbored life. We knew there were countless numbers of stars in the universe. We knew about galaxies, but it all seemed so far away. All we knew was what we saw, and life is what we saw - here on Earth and no where else.
I first believed life could exist somewhere other than our beautiful blue marble in space when I was in elementary school. One night a TV show about space travel aired across the country. It was called Star Trek. I was fascinated by the possibility that some day in the future, if we all worked hard enough, we could build great starships and venture to the furthest reaches of the known universe in a grand quest for knowledge to answer life’s most important question, Are we alone?
I enjoyed the episodes where the starships fought bad aliens. They were by far my favorite. The phasers and photon torpedoes were awesome. But that wasn’t the primary reason I watched the series. I watched Star Trek because it made me think about who I was as a person. The stories forced me to question the values of the 1960’s. America was involved in a bloody war in Vietnam. People I knew were dying. Every evening I watched demonstrators marching through some American city. I saw whites against blacks and rich against poor. It seemed the world was coming apart to a young ten year old in a small town in South Dakota. And then it was time for another episode of Star Trek.
I knew that no matter how dismal things seemed, every week another episode told us to stop for a moment and forget about the here and now. These stories taught us that humanity survived its adolescence and matured into a wise and caring adulthood. Of course I knew some bad alien would soon appear wanting to take everything we accomplished away. Little did they know about the power of the Enterprise. Our phasers could slice through the darkness like the sword of an avenger and our torpedoes brought justice like the lightening bolts of Zeus. It was groovy man. Just groovy.
Today I look at the new pictures released by the Hubble Space Telescope and feel those same feelings I had as a child watching my favorite TV show. I see a never ending number of galaxies each holding trillions and trillions of stars in their gravitational embrace. I know most of those stars have planets and that some of them are Earth like. And if they are Earth like with a warm climate and liquid water then life would be present. Some of that life would evolve and gain self awareness. Their intelligence would continue to increase and evolve, driving them to explore first their world and then the universe around them.
Look at all these stars. This photograph shows only a small small fraction of the stars taken in a sliver of sky by the Hubble Telescope. Each dot is a star with planets. Some of them Earth like. Some of them with intelligent life. And some of them with life looking upward into their night sky searching for answers to the same questions we ask. Perhaps somewhere in this universe at this very moment there is a child looking at a similar picture. And in this picture is a white dot - our sun. And he wonders if anybody out there.
We are shouting, “We are Here! We are Here!”
We hope someone is listening for logic demands we surrender isolationism and continue to search for life. Friends, support America's space program. Vote for representatives that will work to increase NASA's budget.
Congratulations astronauts. You did a bang up job refurbishing the Hubble. Look at what it is doing now.