Why?

Because peering deeply into a dark night sky is awe inspiring, humbling, and moving. This site is about appreciating our place in the universe, understanding our relationship to it, and learning how to use the meager tools at our disposal to discern its secrets.  It is firmly grounded in the scientific disciplines, with a sprinkling of philosophy and an occasional whimsicle nod to the metaphysical. I hope you enjoy it!

The Zen of Astronomy

The moon is reflected in every pond.  In every pond, the same moon.

- Zen Saying

So what is it that makes a person want to spend hours outside on a cold, dark winter night hudled over a telescope staring into the sky?  Are there amazing sights that await us there? Well, not really. Let's face it, I can go on the internet and quickly find images of galaxies, nebulae, the moon, and the planets that are infinitely better than the dim smudgey visages I see through the eyepiece.   

 

Stellar explosion debris - Hubble Telescope
Stellar explosion debris - Hubble Telescope

What about the images I can take using sophisticated gear that tracks celestial targets and captures their fleeting photons for hours on end?  Surely they're worth the time, money and energy spent capturing and rendering thes photos?  Again, no.  They will never compete with images from the Hubble telescope and other far better equipment than I can hope to own.  And for the most part, the majority of the images I take will be of targets that have not noticeably changed for thousands of years before, nor will they for thousands hence.  The images I take are not particularly unique.

 

But ... there is undeniably, at least for some of us, an unseen magnetism that pulls our eyes towards the sky.  This is a place where we find a connection with the universe, and forces far greater than we humans can begin to understand.  It's a country peopled with the extraordinary and the unknowable.  The black hole singularities, the unimaginable distances, the incredible gravitational forces that can bend light like a lens, the dark matter that holds our galaxies together, and the dark energy that is shoving them apart from each other.

"Vastness of Space" - Artist's Illustration
"Vastness of Space" - Artist's Illustration

Peering into this vastness gives one a sense of place, at once more tiny than a speck of dust, yet as large as our ability to perceive.  Gazing at the sparkling darkness brings a feeling of calm, a sense of unity, and a unique perspective on our own day to day existence.  Viewing a grey, indistinct fuzz of a galaxy may not be visually sensational, but the knowledge that its photons have traveled millions of years to end their jouney on my retina is simply staggering.

When I aim my astrophotography gear at a galaxy, I'm preparing to take a picture that has been taken a thousand times before.  And yet, I have aimed my telescope at that particular location.  I have collected the feeble stream of photons that found their way in, and have made the invisible visible.  And, like catching fireflies in a bottle, I have captured a tiny piece of the vastness and have fixed it into an image that reminds me of my place in it.

 

 

When I get behind the telescope, I relax.  I inhale more slowly.  I lose my sense of self. I know that I am just a tiny cog in the wheel of creation.  I am nothing, and yet I am all that there is.

Write a comment

Comments: 0