People and animals have been looking to the skies since forever. There’s a species of bird who manages to plot their migration by the night skies. They get up at bedtime and fly through the night skies to get to the sunnier climes of the southern hemisphere.
Astronomy is acknowledged as the first of the sciences. Perhaps it was, but I like to imagine some early woman looking up wonderingly to the skies before she invented fire. But maybe she had already worked out how to transport water or something.
Do we need the study of the planets?
To some of us, it seems like a lovely job, sitting in the world’s biggest telescopes which seem to be in some of the world’s nicest places and trying to answer questions like ‘How old is the universe?’ or ‘Is it the only universe?’
The Keck Observatory has an annual budget of $30.8 million. Wouldn’t the money be better spent on medical technology or feeding starving people? What does astronomy do for us?
Astronomy translates to other sciences
There are lots of developments in astronomy which have fallen over into the everyday world. Most cameras in cell phones use an astronomical invention which converts the movement of electrical charge into a digital value. But that’s not the real question here.
We have to conclude that as the purest of sciences astronomy is a cornerstone of the rest
Astronomy is an otherworldly study, literally and metaphorically. It is the study of celestial bodies, stars and planets and thing not of this earth. But it places us within the otherworld and anchors us in a way that if we only looked inward we would never see.
You’d like examples?
Without astronomy, anything that relied on time would be struggling. The basic unit of time is the daily revolution about the sun which gives us night and day. Without astronomy commerce as we know it wouldn’t exist because we would be back to the science of ore 1492.
Astronomy gave us latitude and longitude and so the position of everything on earth. Mount Rushmore is 43.8791° N, 103.4591° W and it was there before it had any presidential faces on it. With this ability to pinpoint anything we can point to the position of a dinghy on the sea is to within a degree or two.
Remember in Hidden Figures when Katherine Johnson calculated (in her head, I hasten to add) the exact point in the ocean where John Glenn would come back to earth? That’s astronomy in action.
But it was from longitudes and latitudes that we were able to develop almanacs and astronomical tables, in fact, the entire system of communication. If astronomy didn’t exist we would not have developed the navigation systems we have or a way to get around the world.
So, yes, I believe that astronomy has a value all of its own because it is on the shoulders of astronomy that everything else rests.