I am not a natural scientist. I am interested sure but at some point, mathematics comes into it and then I am left behind. But not being a scientist doesn’t stop me thinking in awe of how without astronomy our lives would be completely different than they are.
Seeing the sky without light pollution
Do you remember the first time you really noticed the night sky without the city lights? I don’t think I do, but I remember vividly the first time I was able to see a Jupiter and its rings.
There’s a group of amateur astronomers who get permission to remain in Yosemite National Park overnight as long as they allow anyone who wanders along to take a look through their telescopes. To say it was eye-opening is an understatement.
A link between us and ancient people
Looking up at a sky filled with the light from a million stars opens a door into what other people throughout time might have felt.
When you look up you feel small and insignificant, and although our casual knowledge today surpasses what an Egyptian farmer may have understood, we can share that feeling. The same smallness and insignificance and then there is a connection between us and them.
Though we still have to wonder why they decided to align the pyramids with Polaris specifically, and not the sun or some other body.
Learning to navigate
Before longitude and latitude were understood ancient peoples had already worked out how to use the stars as their map. Which is an amazing achievement given that the position of the stars constantly changes and the sky appears differently in each of the hemispheres.
Planes and ships traveling at night use a range of technologies to help them navigate. They may use satellite and radio but were these to fail they could still rely on the stars to get from A to B.
Astronomy affects us all in everyday life
Astronomy tries to answer complex questions. It does get much more complex than trying to explain why we are the only planet that is life-sustaining, or indeed if we are the only planet which is life sustaining.
But the esoteric questions translate directly into many aspects of life. In modern medicine, we are all familiar CAT scans and MRI’s. Both of these resulted from a direct knowledge transfer between astronomy and medicine.
Most airports use technology developed for the Mars mission to scan bags for drugs and explosives. X-Ray luggage belts are a hand over from observatory technology. Most cell-phone cameras use technology developed by astronomers to convert the movement of electrical charge into a digital value
Astronomy shows us a balance
On the one hand, astronomy shows us the infinite universe, (and allows our comic book heroes to talk about multiverses). It proves to us that we are only a spec in the greater scheme of things. But it shows us that there is nothing more precious than life itself.
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