Contrary to the catchy title, this is not going to be a fashion and beauty post. I’ll leave those in the capable hands of people that don’t look or dress like me! This is going to be a post about how you can develop an amateur obsession with astronomy and the implications it has for how you view life. Trust me, once you start. it will change you forever.
About 3 years ago, I watched the movie Interstellar for the very first time and I came away with a million questions. These questions prompted me to start reading and watching content related to space time, relativity, and the universe. There isn’t enough time to dive into all of that, but maybe a future podcast or video is in the works. As I began to deepen my understanding of how small and insignificant our planet is in relation to the observable universe, it changed me irrevocably.
Here’s some quick math to blow your mind on a Monday afternoon: Using telescopes and observation, scientists estimate that there are at least 100 Billion galaxies in the known universe, each containing 100 Billion stars. This means that in the known universe there are approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 1 billion trillion) stars. If you’re a simpleton like me, your brain can’t handle all of those zeros. I’m more of a right brained artistic type, so let me put it to you another way: The piano has 88 keys. Imagine that from low A to high C is the observable universe. Our planet wouldn’t be the space between the keys, it would be one atom making up only one small part of a single key.
After being blown away by this, I wanted to feel more connected with the things up in the sky that look pretty at night. In my ignorance, I didn’t realize that some of those shiny things were actually planets. The next logical step for me was to buy a telescope. This sounded expensive and complicated, but after a bit of research and the recommendation of my father-in-law (a fellow amateur astronomer) I found one that didn’t break the bank and has literally changed my life. Click this link to check it out Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope
This telescope is by far the best investment I’ve made in the last 2 years and I’m blown away by it all the time. The first time we used it, we started with the moon…simple enough right? Wrong. It took us a while to find it because we had the high magnification lens on, but when we did find it, my jaw hit the floor. Not only could we see the craters and lunar surface but you can actually see the ridges of mountain ranges in full detail. And that’s only the moon, folks. We swung out deep to Jupiter next. To my surprise we could see 4 of the largest moons surrounding the enormous planet, and the storm bands including the Great Red Spot. Then there’s the show stopper: Saturn. Yes, you can see the rings in complete majestic detail. She’s like a ballerina wearing a tutu frozen in mid-plié, dancing on the stage of the universe. When my sister, Jessica, saw Saturn for the first time, she was moved to tears by the raw beauty of this amazing planet.
That’s the value of looking out of this world. Those arguments you had, the political positions you thought were important, the money you make, the car you drive, the debt you may have, the anxiety that courses through your veins, melts away in a wave of sheer glorious insignificance when looking at these amazing sights. This doesn’t lead to nihilism, but rather to the recovery of a lost word – gratitude. We live in the most amazing time in the history of this planet. The fact that I’m connected to people all over the world right now through a web of interconnected networks is amazing. Whenever I’m feeling off kilter, I whip that telescope out and for a few moments, my problems and fears are put in their place. Suddenly, I become grateful for what I have and I realize that if the things I see through my telescope are holding their place in space, millions and billions of miles from me, I overcome any obstacle set before me.
Whether you take the plunge and buy the telescope or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that we realize that we have been given a gift – each other. If we lived life with a spirit of contagious wonder instead immovable dogmatism, what would happen? I always return to one of my favorite visionaries and fellow star-gazers, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In comparing the United States to the Soviet Union, he said in a commencement speech at American University in 1963:
So, let us not be blind to our differences–but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
What would happen if we looked out of this world more often? Could we, in a stroke of irony, change the world by doing so? I would like to think so, but ultimately I can’t be certain. However, I am certain that it has changed me, and at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing of all.
If the telescope is not in the budget for you right now, here are some other things that helped launch my obsession with looking out:
Interstellar Rent or buy it with Amazon Prime. You won’t be sorry.
Here’s a link to a great video about the universe. Oddly enough, narrated by Alec Baldwin.