Peering Out to Infinity

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the launching of the Hubble Space Telescope, today the New York Times (nytimes.com) posted some favorite photographs of astronomers and others involved in the Hubble project over the years — photos taken by the telescope.  According to Hubblesite.org, this magnificent device represents “one of NASA’s most successful and long-lasting science missions. It has beamed hundreds of thousands of images back to Earth, shedding light on many of the great mysteries of astronomy. Its gaze has helped determine the age of the universe, the identity of quasars, and the existence of dark energy.”

(A cluster of 3,000 stars known as Westerlund 2 in the constellation Carina. )

Upon seeing some of these images and trying to grasp the scale in size, distance from the Earth, and time associated with them, it is certainly understandable why so many people still turn to supernatural or religious explanations for the vastness and wonder of the universe.  How can the mind comprehend it?  It is equally understandable why atheists such as Richard Dawkins make such proclamations as the following: “The world and the universe is (sic) an extremely beautiful place, and the more we understand about it the more beautiful does it appear.”

I try to get to the coast as often as I can, primarily because I like the way it puts my life in perspective for me.  I feel so small when I look out at the ocean and am soothed by the sound of endless waves pounding the shore.  To paraphrase a Beatles tune, all my troubles seem so far away.  Looking at these Hubble images and contemplating how small I am on this planet, in this solar system, in this galaxy that shares the universe with one hundred billion other galaxies — perhaps many more — magnifies this experience but makes me deeply appreciate my life, my consciousness, and all that I perceive.  How very fortunate am I.

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