Friday, December 20, 2013

Space Odyssey

BBC has an excellent series about space travel that is realistic and down to earth (ignore the pun), continuing the exploration of the solar system as if NASA had the budget to fund further adventures; the show focused on travels to Venus, Mars, moons of Jupiter (IO and Europa) and Saturn (Titan), Pluto and a comet, offering tragic tales like the death of a crew member and other human drama. The show is plausible, without the fantastic over-the-top special effects although there were incredible scenes of outer space; instead focusing on the astronauts and mission control - the human element; travelling in a realistically designed space craft called 'Pegasus'. The voyage took several years, in a spirit similar to the sea voyages of Columbus, Magellan and the other sea explorers who discovered the new world, preserving the atmosphere of discovery without the distraction of Hollywood sensationalism. The science was good and seemingly well researched something I could confirm after watching a Nova documentary about the search for alien life, another excellent show that combined scientific fact and research with incredible visuals, though not losing the seriousness of science (no ET).

It was a week of the full moon and I had a chance to observe the moon via my binoculars for several evenings, supplementing the videos I watched on the planets. I find that astronomy is a way to stimulate discovery without the need for travel, achieving a sort of understanding of life by understanding the meaning of the universe, a mixture of organic compounds in the hustle and bustle of planetary life; worlds colliding, comets crashing down, solar bursts until a unique mix of circumstances where 3 necessary elements to create life exists: organic materials, liquid (like water) and energy (from the sun). It does seem to take billions of years before human life could evolve to its present state, something like Charles Darwin's theory of evolution applied to physics, microbiology and the world of planetary evolution, a seemingly random occurrence that results in life, though Einstein would say 'God does not play dice with the universe' challenging the notion of randomness though evoking the concept of a universal omniscient being. It does seem a miracle, unless one believes that aliens dropped us here or that a divine God willed the world to creation.  Indeed as compared to other world religions, the Indian myth of creation does seem closer to the actual way the world evolved.

One feels elevated when one understands the planets, like someone who traveled the earth, seeing many things and places, of different food and cultures. Astronomy opens a similar door, a sort of scientific mysticism since one does not really taste the concept of 'space' except the vision of distant planets (or the moon) via a telescope, a true communion with a greater reality. Soon the problems of work, of one's personal life, the difficult tasks that one needs to do to move forward, the exhaustion and seemingly fruitlessness of human existence, all seem to disappear when one is confronted with the vastness of the night sky, the unending universe. It's one simple way to relieve one's anxiety, to take a break like a sort of meditation, perhaps more profound than yoga or Tai chi, more an intellectual and spiritual unity. Not expensive too, except the purchase of telescopes or binoculars, although much less than the cost of touring the earth with the expense of plane tickets, hotel accommodation, costly tours or visits to museums. One can only achieve this appreciation of space in the only country who has mastered interplanetary travel with its command of science and technology (though the show was good due to sobriety of the English). Perhaps this achievement  has contributed to the culture of excess.?

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