In Starry Realms
November 17, 2010
My interest in astronomy was first fueled by growing up under star-laden nights and watching the Aurora Borealis (the northern lights) dance across the heavens. That appetite was further whetted after discovering a book my father had. It was a 1928 edition of In Starry Realms by Robert S. Ball, Sr (1840-1913). Not expecting to find it still in print, I was thrilled to find it on WorldCat. From this book, I learned that ancient civilizations had a rather creditable knowledge of the movement of stars and planets. Of course, they did not have to contend with the obscuring glow of incandescent, halogen, and neon lights we live with today.
The Mayans studied the precessions and alignments of the planets and our sun. They came up with, I believe, five ages of 23,000 years apiece, the fifth of which we are living in now. Hence, the infamous December 21, 2012 date. The Hopi in North America share similar legends. And, the Druids are believed to have built Stonehenge to fit solstice alignments, possibly helping with crop planting and harvesting. In northern Africa, we have Egyptians perfectly mirroring the three stars of Orion’s belt with the placement of the pyramids of Giza. Also nearby there, we find the Dogon tribe who believed their ancestors came from Sirius A (the Dog Star). What is fascinating is that they have stellar map drawings showing not only Sirius A, but also its companion binary star, Sirius B, long before we discovered it even existed.
The more scientists and astronomers discover, the more we realize just how little we know. We have theories, some proven and some to be tossed by the wayside. Black holes, considered the most destructive forces in the universe, may also play a hand in the formation of galaxies. They are believed to lie dormant at times, and wake up to feed again. We have one at our core in the Milky Way.
We have heard about Bucky Balls, string theory, wormholes, supernovas, red giants, red, white and brown dwarf stars, and dark matter theorized to be holding galaxies together. Let us also hope nobody ever chooses to aim deadly gamma rays our way—even from light years away, they would incinerate us.
Looking down from a high-flying commercial plane at night, or viewing nighttime imagery from orbiting satellites, our own planet could resemble a mini universe with cities as galaxies, rural areas as scattered stars and unlighted areas as dark matter.
Who knows, sometime in the near future, the fiction of authors Arthur C.Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Ben Bova (especially his Mars terraforming and colonization novels) may become reality. We have seen it happen with the works of H.G.Wells and Jules Verne. Even some of Star Trek technology has become fact, and our MCPL has a plethora of science facts and science fiction.