December 3, 2012
Born in 1961, in Brazil, not from a particularly rich or poor family, I remember myself as a book lover since I learn to read, fought by an uncle of mine. At the time there were a norm in Brazil, children can only start on public education from the age of seven. Well, I fought to start before, at 6, for the amusement of various members of the family. I fell as if I would be better fit in the school, than playing football, which I hatted. As one can imagine, at the time, reading material were not abundant and one of the most cherished and desired assets of a house were an encyclopedia. I mean, the books, lots of them, beautifully bonded, gilded, big, heavy stuff, all lined up in a bookshelf in the dinner room, next to the television. It was as much a symbol of wellness as a statement that that family valued education. Very expensive they are, there were traveling salesmen that, from time to time, knocked at our door with huge craters with whole collections, showing the advantages and contents of the books, nice images and illustrations, the human body, the wonders of science, the countries of the world, all for only… well, I don't know how to translate in todays money, but anything well worth my fathers salary of half a year! There were plans to pay in monthly installments for 1 or 2 years. None of them at our reach, even the most simple of them. Then, publishers in Brazil "invented" the concept of Encyclopedia by the week. Buying one little issue at a time at your friendly neighborhood newsstand, in 2 or 3 years one could amass an entire Encyclopedia, for a tenth of the cost of the big ones! So, my father bought it and finally I had matter to read. It was called "Conhecer" - "Know" it would be in english, I think. They are more of a collections of unrelated articles on science and nature than a real Encyclopedia, but they sparked, or else, quenched a little of my thirst for science. I read it again and again for a long time. Eventually, my reading interest drifted naturally to astronomy and space, as we were still at the heat of the space race, dreaming of our future in space but fearing the consequences of our powers. These the books told me too, we are on the verge of destruction. Knowledge came at a price, I was a gloomy boy. Then came Cosmos. It is difficult to resume the importance of this hallmark of scientific outreach. Carl Sagan put fuel to my little spark and set a real bonfire on my mind! Man, there was hope! The Encyclopedia Galactica is a special episode to me, for it put the wondrous concept of the knowledge accumulated for millions of years across billions of civilizations, shared through the galaxy. Books of light. Thinking of it now, forty years latter, that Encyclopedia presented me a glimpse of the universe, and sparked my curiosity for more, since more questions arose as more information came, and the big red books simply didn't have the answers. The Encyclopedia Galactica encompasses it all, but we still are to find it, or write it instead. Books of paper. Sheets of paper made of wood from trees, with symbols of our language imprinted on them, talking on my head with voices of anonymous authors, about the knowledge and wonders collected and hard won from nature, talking about concepts and thinking and arguments and philosophies, the heritage of our ancestors. Today, with all the wonder of our hypertext graphical multimedia internet, the smell of a book on my hands, reminds me of the ways we share our knowledge, the way we must keep sparking the interest of our sons. Books of love.
An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.