My family went on a holiday to St. Ives in England when I was eight years old.
We decided to rent a caravan for the week in a quaint little holiday park not far from the sea front. Sadly, my memory has faded and I can only recall small parts of our time there.
What I can remember of St. Ives was the narrow, cobbled streets, cats, and tiny antique shops. I loved the cats and always asked my mum if we could take them home. Of course the answer was no.
One memory, however, that I often think of, even now almost 20 years on, was when my family and I were returning from a night of sampling the local restaurants and entertainment.
As we were returning to our caravan, we laughed and chatted up the hill. It was around 11:00 pm, the night air was fresh as it glided from the sea, and the skies were dark and cloudless.
I recall standing outside our caravan and looking up to the night sky.
I remember thinking the darkness above me was like a huge sheet of black paper that had been sprinkled with a jar of silver glitter. A strange feeling came over me as I looked up, a feeling that I encounter even now as I look to the sky. A feeling that I struggle to tell in words, though I wish I could.
Suddenly, I spotted something unusual above me, and I tried to squint my eyes for a better view. One of the specks of glitter appeared to be moving slowly across the black paper. I thought, “Wow! what is it? Is it a star? Could stars move? Is it a UFO?” I ran into the caravan to tell my parents of the discovery. My dad simply explained that it was most likely a satellite orbiting the earth. This confused my young mind, but I was still greatly excited. Secretly, I wanted it to be a spacecraft from an unknown, distant land.
This was my first memory of looking up at the sky with wonder and enchantment. A wonder and enchantment that has never left.
20 years on, my knowledge of the night sky has expanded. Science has expanded.
On Monday the 28th of September, 2015, scientists announced that almost certainly liquid water flows on the surface of Mars, a planet that we once thought of as dry desert-like land. Liquid water is an essential building block for life as we know it—could this mean life once graced the little red planet, or perhaps still does?
Kepler, the planet hunting telescope launched in March 2009, has allowed us to understand that planets are common. Almost all sun-like stars have a planetary system and there are billions of stars in our galaxy alone. And if that isn’t strange enough, there is estimated to be at least 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe…and what about beyond that?
What we do know is our little blue home sits here with its cobbled streets, cats, and antique shops. I wonder if there is such a place out there, too.
Then of course there is us. You and me, who can question our very existence and type our ponders on to a laptop screen. We ask questions and seek answers. We, the human race, have left our planet and looked back to see our home in her truest form. A blue jewel amidst the unknown.
1. “Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” ~ Carl Sagan.
2. “We are the cosmos made conscious and life is the means by which the universe understands itself.” ~ Brian Cox
3. “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” ~ Arthur C. Clarke
4. “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” ~ Carl Sagan
5. “Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
6. “Every carbon atom in every living thing on the planet was produced in the heart of a dying star.” ~ Brian Cox
7. “Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.” ~ Alan W. Watts
8. “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine—it is stranger than we can imagine.” ~ Arthur Stanley Eddington
9. “There’s as many atoms in a single molecule of your DNA as there are stars in the typical galaxy. We are, each of us, a little universe.” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
10. “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.” ~ Albert Einstein
Author: Suzan Crawford
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Juskteez Vu/Unsplash