Spirit Saturday: Great Burning Balls of Gas

I wanted to be an astronaut as a kid . . . until I realized that I was afraid of heights and afraid of the dark and being an astronaut meant being higher than everything and staring the darkest of dark in the face. So I did what Sesame Street taught me: I gave up my dreams because of my fears (ha!). But I still love astronomy, and the stars.

Just ask me where to find Orion. Go ahead, ask!

Orion’s right here:

And NO, I did not google that image. Ok, maybe I did. But I knew what Orion looked like before I googled it.

Now ask me what the stars on Orion’s belt are named. Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. Boo-ya. I totally knew that. Actually, I had to google that one. But I DO know that Betelgeuse and Rigel are a part of that constellation and I did not google that it was off the top of my head I swear.

That’s one of the things I love about astronomy. The names. The astronomers and astrologers gave quite beautiful names to the stars, they have romantic names … as fitting to their beauty.

I’ve never been around anyone who looked at the stars and sniffed and said, “they’re looking rather drab tonight.”

Everyone looks up at the stars and awe washes over their features. Sometimes they say, “Wow,” or “That’s beautiful.” But no one really has to say that while looking at the stars. Everyone feels it.

This is what I feel when I look up at the stars:

I feel both eternal and transient.

Eternal because I am a part of this universe. I am made up of the same atoms as those stars. I am connected to them. They have a life cycle just like I have a life cycle. Stars are so old, and so beautiful. In fact, a star’s death is the most beautifully climactic times of its life. It bursts out such an explosion of radiation that it can outshine an entire GALAXY! Wow. That’s quite a way to die. And that’s when I feel like my life is so temporary. Death comes to us all. It’s always sad, but sometimes it can be beautiful.

But just as my toddlers remind me daily, you shouldn’t just take my word for it. Here’s what some other people felt about the stars:

For every one, as I think, must see that astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.

— Glaucon, the older brother of Plato, in Plato’s The Republic, c. 380 BCE

If there is anything that can bind the heavenly mind of man to this dreary exile of our earthly home and can reconcile us with our fate so that one can enjoy living—then it is verily the enjoyment of the mathematical sciences and astronomy.

— Johannes Kepler

The outstanding feature, however, is the possibility that the velocity-distance relation may represent the de Sitter effect, and hence that numerical data may be introduced into discussions of the general curvature of space.

— Edwin Hubble

Pumbaa: Oh, gee. I always thought they were balls of gas burning billions of miles away.

Timon: Pumbaa, with you, everything’s gas.

When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system.

— Laurel Clark

Astronomy, as nothing else can do, teaches men humility.

— Arthur C. Clarke

A somewhat star-related story: My parents let me study astronomy for a whole semester during school, because they saw I had an interest in it. I think I was in 8th grade. Anyway,  one Sunday my dad preached for this tiny country church and when he introduced us kids (he made us stand because he liked to torture us that way) he said, “My eldest is Aanna, she plays piano. My second eldest is Ellie, she’s studying astrology.” And then all the little old ladies gasped and were probably shocked that such a good little Christian girl would  try to find her fate in the stars instead of in God’s holy book. I still like to tease my dad about that moment.

What do you feel when you look up at the great burning balls of gas?


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