Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Love Letter to the Universe

Thanks to two free passes to the Imax that I won last May, I went to Hubble with my friend, Dani, and her son, Liam, this afternoon. I chose the movie because I've always had a passing interest in space and am always captivated when I see Hubble images but I actually didn't know that much about Hubble except that it was a huge telescope orbiting the earth, it was broken almost immediately upon being put into service, it has made huge contributions to our understanding of the universe, and it takes pretty pictures. (Speaking of pictures, NASA does the awesome thing of allowing anyone to use their photos as long as you state 'Dude, these belong to NASA'. You guys rock!)

I came out of the film finally understanding more about what the images I had seen previously actually meant and exactly how large of an impact the Hubble Space Telescope had on our understanding of the universe. It was incredible and amazing and awe-inspiring and humbling. Not wanting to spend any money, I flipped longingly through the coffee table books on display in the gift shop before I came home and did what any self-proclaimed geek would do, I took to the Internet to learn more. I have spent my Friday night reading about nebulae, star clusters, galaxies, supernovas, and more. Let me repeat what I have oft said before: I am a dork.

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was named after Edwin Hubble who was able to prove that there were galaxies beyond our own Milky Way. (He also gave us the Big Bang Theory which indirectly gave us an awesome TV show, am I right?) Until his discovery, the belief in astronomy was that we were the only galaxy in the universe. As you can see from the picture above, that is clearly not the case!

HST has allowed astronomers to determine more precisely the rate at which the universe is expanding and, by extension, a better idea of how old it is. It has captured detailed pictures of stars being created and of galaxies in various states of growth. I watched the film and I felt myself fill with that six year old wonderment at it all. The movie ended and my six year old self wanted them to play it again. "Again! Again," she shouted as my 30 year old self put on my jacket and headed towards the door.

My stepdad had the most wonderful knowledge of the natural world growing up. He's a geologist so knowledge of the history of the earth was to be expected, but his ability to look into the night sky and find constellations when we were camping always amazed me. Even more amazing, he tell me their names in Latin and then spew off facts about what the Romans or the Greeks or another ancient civilisation thought about it inevitably coming to the sentence 'of course, modern science now knows...' and then telling me exactly what modern science now knows. I wish I had seen the movie with him so I could have picked his brain on our way out.

Throughout the movie, the soundtrack kept playing refrains from IZ's Somewhere Over the Rainbow and I found myself contemplating exactly how lucky we are for earth to exist. What a lucky chance that a planet formed which is capable of sustaining life. I believe that, given the vastness of the universe and the sheer number of galaxies, there must be other planets out there like earth but I doubt if we'll ever find them. It's the proverbial needle in the haystack except the haystack is the size of the Pacific Ocean. Hmm, maybe we should call the Mythbusters.

It think it's safe to say that a spark went off in me while I watch the movie and I have a burning desire to learn more (which may show up via the the Great Book Challenge) and I may some how find my way back to the gift shop to peruse the Hubble books again, but for now, I'll leave you with the internal soundtrack I was hearing during the movie.

EDIT: Once again, can't get the embedding to work on this blog (but it does on the other one, why not here?) so you can see the video here.

No comments: