By James Murray, Observer contributor
As I drove along absentmindedly towards home late Thursday night, I found myself looking up at a great, big, shiny, old moon, round as can be and just hanging there before me in the night sky.
It was so impressive I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it. Yes, I know I was driving a vehicle and was supposed to have my eyes on the road, but there was little traffic and I was able to do both. Anyways, I thought to myself, how ironic that only the night before, on a dull, dreary, grey evening, one of the most unique astronomical phenomenon of the last 150 years was shrouded in a vale of clouds. During the early hours of what technically speaking was Wednesday morning, the full moon not only rose as a blue moon, a supermoon and a blood moon, but was also part of a total lunar eclipse – none of which I was able to witness because of cloud cover. Ah well, I thought to myself, in a few hours I can get up (again) and watch the whole thing in condensed time on the Internet. Ah yes, the wonders of the universe at one’s fingertips.
If a person could somehow travel across time and space and the universe, they would eventually come across a collection of galaxies known as Galaxy Group C7. If they were to stop long enough to take a close look at Galaxy Group C7, they’d be able to pick out a fairly large spiral-shaped galaxy containing more than 100,000 million stars. Deep within this galaxy, about 30,000 light years from its centre, they just might be able discern one rather unspectacular yellow star. That unimpressive, not very bright yellow star is our sun. The third planet from the sun is Earth.
Prehistoric man probably wondered in awe and amazement as he gazed up at the sun by day and the moon and stars at night. In some ways we have come a long, long way in our understanding of the universe. In other ways we have barely begun our journey across time and space.
It took the invention of the telescope to develop astronomy into the modern science of today. It may seem strange to us now, but for most of recorded history, it was believed the Earth, not the sun, was the centre of the universe. A Polish mathematician by the name of Nicolaus Copernicus first asserted the theory that the Earth was, in fact, not the centre of the universe, but rather the Earth rotated on its own axis once daily and travelled in an orbit around the sun once annually. It wasn’t until several years after the invention of the refracting telescope in Holland, that an Italian astronomer by the name of Galileo Galilei was able to validate the “unholy” idea that Earth orbited the sun and the sun was, in actual fact, the centre of the solar system. For his efforts, Galileo was tried for heresy, forced to recant his support of Copernicus’ theory and was subsequently sentenced to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. All this took place, ironically, during a period known as the Age of Enlightenment.
Since then, we have expanded our knowledge of the universe enormously. Within my lifetime alone mankind has set foot on the moon, calculated the existence of pulsars, quasars and black holes. We have sent probes to Mars, Saturn and beyond that, in turn, have sent us back images of the Red Planet as well as more distant planetary bodies composed of ice orbiting larger bodies made up of liquid hydrogen. Pretty cool if you ask me.
Maybe I’ve watched too much Star Trek, but I don’t know how many times I’ve looked up into the night time sky and wondered what it would be like to travel across time and space and the universe. It may sound crazy for someone my age, but I would willingly travel through distant galaxies ablaze with explosive firestorms and seething with the gaseous tendrils of stars being torn apart and sucked into black holes, just to look back and catch a glimpse of our little blue planet. However, I’m sure they’d probably want a younger person who’s in better shape.
So for now I guess I’ll just have to be content to explore the universe from here on planet Earth, which isn’t really so bad. I just wish the weather would be a little bit more cooperative.