Look at the Sky

Look at the sky.

Tell me what you see.

Growing up, my parents celebrated the Solstices and Equinoxes rather than Hallmark Card holidays. Their motivations were practical. First, they had Christian friends, Jewish friends, Buddhist friends, atheist friends and many others, and didn’t want to alienate anyone on a holiday. Second, a young father starting out in a glamorous career would rarely get first pick of the vacation days.

We celebrated the longest night, the longest day, planting and harvesting. We were pulled out of school 3-4 times a year to observe, to be with family, and to feast. The opportunities to connect with the universe were there, too. Tapping into the rhythms of our world shapes your perspective on the rhythms of life. It taught me about patience, about community, about opening your home to people whose families are far-away (in many senses). It taught me both how small we are in the universe, and how vital we can be in a moment. The tiny candles that glowed in paper bags became as important to nature’s rhythm as watching the sun come back.

Every Solstice, we went as far east or as far up (or in summer, as far west or as far up) to watch the sun complete its cycle. While eating the frozen crop from the last year-point (winter cookies in summer, summer strawberries in winter) we watched the sky’s colors change as the sun dipped below the ocean. We yelled and sang and jumped up and down — huddled in blankets — when the first golden ray shot across millions of miles and into our eyes.

It was a spiritual experience, or not, as we chose.

The important thing is that we were there, and we looked.

I just saw Interstellar for the first time a few days ago (don’t judge), and I was absolutely floored by it. This was the first time a movie had me on the edge of my seat. I didn’t care about the relationships or the drama, but the way they represented the scale of the universe was unbelievable.

There is so much out there that we’re just scratching the surface of. It is terrifying. It is breathtaking. It is pretty fucking neat.

Inspired by this adventure story, I’ve been watching some short videos about space exploration and submarine exploration. I can only spare 10-20 minutes at a stretch before I start to panic about not writing, so brevity is key.

So how much can you say on that timetable?

You can talk about extremophiles, types of life that live and procreate in conditions like the vacuum of space, or in boiling battery acid. You can listen to stories about how so much of Earth itself is unmapped and uninvestigated. You can learn about the sounds two black holes make as they merge, or the quest for the Song of the Universe.

See how that phrasing mattered?

Say you learn about the geysers on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. Imagine jets of water shooting off into space, higher and faster than the plume of a volcano. It’s mind-boggling… but how boggling? How tall are the jets? How big is Enceladus? How tall are our geysers, relatively speaking, and how far is it from the earth’s surface to our atmosphere? How can we map cosmic activity to our own understanding, so that we can be awed in full knowledge of what’s going on?

There are actual answers to all of these questions right now!

Pretty fucking neat, huh?

To me, the best stories make you think. They make you wonder. They make you get up and design your own adventure. A word of warning, though. Stories will get it wrong. That’s why they’re stories. If they inspire interest that leads to actual study, that’s wonderful. That’s the best possible result. However, because this is the internet, I  would be wary of fact-checkers who point out flaws and misinterpretations in condescending ways. Story is a bridge between worlds, between disciplines, and between people. We have enough arbitrary bullshit dividing us up.

Whether it’s researching black holes or discovering the Song of the Universe, go. Do. Discover.

Look at the sky. Tell me what you see.


4 thoughts on “Look at the Sky

  1. marfisk

    A lovely post, Setsu. Brought me back to trying to make eggs balance on the Solstice. In odd connection with the universe, our electric toothbrush heads are supposed to be changed out every 3 months, so we do it on the Equinoxes and Solstices because they’re memorable dates.

    Meanwhile, I like to watch sunsets and the occasional sunrises and think about a world where the mechanics were unknown and how every morning began with wonder and every night with the hope that once again the sun would rise back up through the darkness.

    Liked your note about stories as well. Even if I know the facts hands down, there’s been times when I fudged for the sake of the story and that wonder of discovery.

  2. marfisk

    On one of the days, and I can’t remember which but my mind says spring, if you time it exactly, the magnetic forces are supposed to be equal and it stands by itself. Now, we actually succeeded one year…but it was a broad bottomed egg so probably just had a close enough to flat spot :).

    And with the wonders of the Internet: http://www.snopes.com/science/equinox.asp

  3. sneezypb

    I saw Interstellar in the movie theater with a friend. The way it approached the planets and the science made me incredibly happy. I should have seen Gravity the weekend it opened because the Neil deGrasse Tyson tweets ruined that want.

    Well, when the credits rolled, I noticed Kip Thorne was an executive producer. As I understand the job title, they have a strong influence on the story and portrayal of the story. I know him as a theoretical astrophysicist whose expertise is in wormholes, black holes, and gravity. Him being attached was kind of like reading a strange story and looking it up on Snopes to find out that, yes, indeed it is true. It just amplified my enjoyment.


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