The Stars Above Mines: A letter from the Author

Dear Fellow Astronomer,

It is not rare for me to get a passing comment along the lines of “Wow, you are really into astronomy, what sort of telescope did you have as a kid?” My answer often surprises people, in short I was not into astronomy in my youth. Sure, I thought black holes were wicked awesome and I knew the Earth went around the Sun, but I had very little fascination with the realm beyond our atmosphere. The story I would like to tell is one part thoughtful reflection and a whole helping of a basic plea.

When I started driving, I gained the ability to see a world beyond what my schedule had dictated before. No longer was I always home by supper, and no longer was I cooped up inside while the skies did their dance. I knew of the moon, I had seen it thousands of times, but suddenly with my schedule placed under my control, I started seeing it more than ever. I found it to be purely fascinating that one night the moon would be high in the sky, then a few nights later, at the same time, it would just be on the horizon. My world was not one of magic, but this observation astounded me and inspired me to my core. After a while, curiosity got the better of me and I began to borrow an old World War I spotting scope from my father so I could sit out and look at the moon more closely. What I saw astounded me even more than I could have imagined; the areas originally seen as gray smudges were rimmed by spectacular mountain ranges and sometimes craters would stand out against the bright surface. I was hooked. It would take a few more years full of cold dark nights to produce who I am today, but every step has shown me more than I could have ever imagined.

It would have been easy just to get lost in the stars, living every day with my head several hundred kilometers up; fortunately everything changed on one fateful night. Just like children looking up at the clouds and seeing shapes, I often would look up at the stars and picture massive wisps of history passing above. Regardless of their actual existence, I would picture the ancient gods battling, armies lead on by hopes placed on a falling star, and ancient stellar prophecies abound. Then something went a bit weird with my perception. I knew space was a three-dimensional volume; but mentally, all of the stars were about the same distance from me; when suddenly, that shifted. It started with a triangle of stars; the dimmest star in the triad slid away from me while the brightest stayed near, and with that space went from two-dimensional, to the full on three. This would only be the beginning, through the dizzying encounter with reality, I began to feel more like a rock climber holding on for dear life as the great void grew deeper and deeper; it was exhilarating. It was at that moment, as I gazed into the depths of space that I became fully aware of the object that was holding me close.

We live on a silent and forgiving mass of rock, clay, and metal. Despite being such a small speck in the whole of reality, the Earth is something to be treasured. Regardless of theological or national views, the Earth is an essential element of being human. The species did not start on Mars, nor Venus, or a moon of Jupiter; while we will visit these some day, we are all from Earth. So here is my plea: appreciate the whole of reality, from the Orion Nebula, to the shifting sands of the Sahara. You are as much of a part of the universe as any other star, dust cloud, or tree. Beyond that, never lose that drive to explore, and if has already departed fro your imagination, rekindle it. Every day satellites and rovers send back exciting news, unheard of species are discovered, and the Earth slowly churns below us. On top of all, may the stars always shine bright in your skies.

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