Let me ask you, when you look at the stars on a cold, clear night, what do you see? Diamonds sparkling? Shapes?
I do see those things, but I also see so much more. When I look at the stars, I see a thousand generations of humans looking up in wonder, writing shapes in the dirt and telling incredible stories of brave heroes, ferocious beasts, and important lessons. I see our common ancestors using the sky to predict the weather, the seasons, and even the coming of the end of the world. They were looking at a comet in the sky and thought it meant the world was ending, but luckily they were wrong. I see how far human civilization has come since then, and how far we still have to go. We are far from perfect, but we’re trying.
When I gaze up at the night sky, I see the Moon, more than just an orb of light, but a cratered world untouched for billions of years. I imagine the footprints of a handful of brave astronauts who got to bounce around on its surface, jumping high in its low gravity. I can imagine them seeing the entire planet from afar, against the endless ocean of space. How small and alone they must have felt. When I look up into the sky, I see the planets of our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn and Venus and Mars and Mercury, more than just wandering dots, but distant worlds that we have visited with marvelous machines that we built by working together for a higher purpose. We have revealed clouds of acid on Venus, ancient oceans on Mars, massive hurricanes on Jupiter, and liquid oceans beneath the surfaces of icy moons. And there are so many more secrets to learn!
When I look at the stars in the sky, I see other suns, like ours, bright and hot, with different colours, blue and red and yellow and orange and white, massive swirling tempests of plasma. They are the mightiest furnaces, slowly producing the basic elements in their cores. Billions of stars have lived and died synthesizing the atoms that make up this entire planet. Every single atom in your body was made in the center of a star Billions of years ago. You and I are ancient star dust.
I see other solar systems, massive planets thousands of times as big as the Earth, with great rings that put Saturn’s to shame. Some of those solar systems could have 20, 30 planets, and maybe one or two like Earth. Maybe there is a planet out there with life, just like ours. Maybe they have civilizations, with the same politics and problems, worries and emotions, looking back at us with the same passion and wonder.
When I look up into the night sky, I see the 400 Billion stars of the Milky Way hanging above my head, and feel the immensity of our galaxy, realizing that we are one tiny, lonesome planet in a giant Frisbee of stars, gas, and dust, held together by a massive black hole whose destructive power makes a nuclear bomb look like a BBQ lighter. Human timescales mean nothing to this galaxy as it spins once every 250 Million years.
I look up and see the vast darkness between the stars, and imagine the hundreds of billions of other galaxies that exist in the universe that my eyes can’t see, and I feel so lucky that our species has worked together to create technology that can see beyond my simple day to day experience, allowing me to gaze upon the structure of the universe as if I was so much more than just a tiny being on a lonesome blue planet in a vast cosmic ocean.
But most importantly, when I look up at the stars, I feel connected to everything and everyone. I am one small part of one small planet, an arrangement of atoms that is somehow able to ponder its existence. Working together with 7 Billion similar arrangements of atoms to help answer the deepest and simplest question of all: Why?
I hope you can see the universe through my eyes, if only for a moment.