Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Planets

Last night I looked at the full moon through my binoculars, walking in my backyard in the descending evening, observing the sky especially the moon in the dark tranquility of my lawn.  Moon watching and astronomy in general, I had thought before as an elitist and highly intellectual activity, sort of like a snobbish thing to do for dilettantes as against professional astronomers who observe the sky for their work. In fact, astronomy has progressed through the ages with the hard work of amateurs; most discoveries done by enthusiast rather than professionals. I sipped a Bloody Mary while watching the moon, enjoying the solitude and quiet, an interesting feature of most American neighborhoods, unlike the noise and bustle of Asian subdivisions, thinking about the day past and my procrastinating. I have become an enthusiast, thinking perhaps that observing space objects would take away one’s attention from oneself and instead discover a wider universe so to speak and, thereby, reap the benefits of detachment from self. This is an ancient tradition, especially in Japan and China, where moon watching is a treasured activity by elites, poets, farmers, warriors and common men.

I have borrowed several DVDs about space travel, planets and the solar system, the moon, the Apollo missions and astronomy in general while spending several hours actually observing the moon in the evenings. I have also seen the sensational movie ‘Gravity’ in 3D IMAX, possibly the closest one could get being in space. I visited the local observatory and planetarium, as well as listening to books like Dava Sobel’s ‘The Planets’ and Haruki Murakami’s ‘1Q84,’ whose characters see 2 moons. Astronomy, I have found to be a relaxing activity, not to be technically proficient in star gazing, but as an act of meditation and relaxation. It is the timeless activity of gazing into the stars, a pastime for those who love the outdoors, camping in the wilderness with only the night stars as one’s companion.  I have bolstered my understanding by using sky charts and moon phase apps downloaded into my Android tablet supplementing the knowledge I gained from watching DVDs. This has increased one’s understanding of the universe’s origin, recalling the ancient myths and religions that speak about creation, right smack into the creationist theory that is influencing some states in as sort of anti-science.

Dumbing down of science is perhaps a reaction to the advancement of knowledge through space research, the information gained from satellites and space probes launched to Jupiter and Saturn’s moons, by the Hubble space telescope and the findings from various high altitude observatories scattered all over the earth. Extra-terrestrial life no longer seems far-fetched, in fact an obvious reality that time will prove; this causes reactionaries to fear the loss of certainties that religion and culture have given time immemorial, to face the inevitability of alien life like it was the end of the world. Hence, religion is threatened, ever since the renaissance when science shook away the darkness of superstition. This anti-science and anti-reasoning seem sometime to influence the right wing extremists like libertarians and tea party members, a gut reaction to change of any sort. This call to mind the phrase attributed to Mark Twain that traveling is the enemy of bigotry and small town thinking; the more so space travel. Perhaps we should blast these reactionaries into space for the education of a lifetime, to float into the emptiness of space and see the world from thousands of miles above the earth.  

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