Sunday, February 21, 2016

Putting 2 and 2 Together

by Joel Marks

Last night I glanced out my window before pulling down the shade and noticed a bright star. It was probably Jupiter. I am fairly knowledgeable about the nighttime sky, since I have been an amateur astronomer all my life. Nothing is more fascinating to me than the physical universe with its vastness and mystery. So as I gazed at the blazing planet I began to picture it as the immense and gorgeous globe it is, when I suddenly had a random thought: There could be artificial satellites orbiting that planet!

            Now this is hardly news for anybody. We have been sending probes to the planets and moon(s) for decades, indeed for over half a century; and I’ve been following them the whole time. But, dagnabbit, not once before had I ever put 2 and 2 together in my perceptual experience and felt their presence when I looked at the sky. Oh, plenty are the times I have gazed at the moon and practically swooned at the thought of human beings walking there, or hiking there with backpacks as I myself have done on this planet. But, for whatever reasons or causes, the particular thought of an unmanned space probe orbiting another celestial body had just never come to me when I was looking at one of them.

            I am musing now at several levels. I am as ever in awe of humanity’s reach into space. Last night was a moment of genuine splendor for me, to have that First Light dawn on me. But that soon led me to musing at a more abstract level about the “thickness” of the human “skull.” How could I have failed to unite my intellectual knowledge (and indeed passion) with my actual experience for half a century? Just dumb, I guess. Well, just human.

            So from now on when I gaze at the planets, I will experience them as accompanied by human artefacts. Of course the sky has already been filled with human artefacts, from kites to airplanes to Earth satellites to, soon, drones. But all of those are visible to the naked eye, whereas these others must be imagined because of their distance. Note also that I specifically say “planets,” by which I refer to the seven classical planets, or “wanderers” through the so-called fixed stars. So this means not only Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, but also the sun and the moon. And we have or have had and surely will have probes circling them all. Isn’t that amazing? We are a truly space-faring species; we inhabit not only the Earth but the entire visible solar system (and of course the “invisible” one too, since we have also visited Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and several other “minor planets”; and some of these are sometimes visible to the naked eye as well).

            Again, no news here. Just … realization. And is it not preciously in consciousness that wonder resides?