Channelling my inner-stardust
July 10, 2015
When I was a child, attending Valley View Elementary School, in Wadsworth, OH, we were given one of the greatest gifts imaginable. It was the early 90's, and we were energetic little twerps - who grew up into energetic big twerps - but we were visited by a super star. Bill Nye came to our school and wowed us. Not only was he the most famous person in the ENTIRE world to us at the time - the thought of meeting him was overwhelming and exciting - but more than the fame, his influence on us just as great. He shared MAGIC with us. Real magic. The universe. The stars. Making a lightbulb turn on with lemon juice - I can't remember if that was something he really did, BUT IT WAS ALL JUST AS COOL AS THAT!
Well, life rolled on. I graduated high school. Spent two years in Montana, enjoying nature and the people. Then returned to go to school. Something wonderful happened there. I became a teaching assistant for the Physical Science 100 course - the Freshman introduction to Physics, Chemistry, Geology, and best of all, Astronomy. I devoured it. I ran community outreach shows in the planetarium, teaching Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church groups, and families all about the birth of our Universe, the origins of the stars, the genesis of our Solar System, and most importantly... that we only exist because of giant stars that died so that we might live. I loved and still love to teach people about our kindred connections to the cosmos. I love watching the confusion and awe splash across their face when I tell them that the Iron in their blood was, at one point, the catalyst for a massive super nova! That the precious metals that we dig out of the earth, marvel at, and print the faces of great men and women of history, are the remnants of heated explosions billions of years ago.
I loved to hear the kids laugh at my 'G-rated' versions of Greek mythology, when I told them about Jupiter hurling the transformed Callisto into the stars, stretching her tail, and making the world's first bear-rat hybrid. Most of all, I cherish the relationship that I have developed with the eternity. The tininess of the self, and how that tininess is washed away and melded into the grandeur of the cosmos. That my insignificance in my life's brief moment in time is actually infinitely significant. That just because my consciousness didn't see the first moments of creation, when gravity crawled out of the hot matter of a freshly budding universe, doesn't mean that I'm not part of it, and it is not part of me. And just because I won't see our beautiful, home-galaxy collide with Andromeda, doesn't mean that pieces of me will swirl and coalesce in that grand merging, to hopefully bring forth new species of life who can learn and grow just as I have.
Even now, as I sit at a computer building code day in and day out, my mind is caught away to other worlds. I am carried away in thought to the heights of Olympus Mons, plunging into the deepest oceans of Europa, or the climes of Tritan, watching its geysers jettison miles into space. The beauty, grandeur, and complex-yet-simple certainty of the universe conjures both uncontrollable angst and unease, while simultaneously calming me with the assurance of the eternities.
My dream would be that all of this planet's children could come to love it and respect it for the life-giving force that it is; that we may all treat it with dignity, and protect it. It is everything to us. It is our corner of the cosmic neighborhood, and if we don't protect it, no one will. The universe is a big place, and though it is entirely improbable that we are alone in it, for all intents and purposes, we are. We don't know who else is out there, and until we do, we have only got each other - right here, right now. What better message could we bring to the world than that?
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.