The Future of our Past   2 comments

Orion

Every night, when I look up at my familiar winter friends, I have to remind myself they’re long gone.

At least from my perspective, anyway.

Here’s what I see:  Orion charges in a dark field with his faithful dog.  Is he hunting the hare or the bull? Do his friends, the Gemini Twins, help him catch his prey?  Or is he on the banks of Eridanus, awaiting an enemy?

Here’s what is:  The light that shines from those stars has left so many years ago, one can only make predictions where they’re located today.  Based on red shifts and calculations, it’s not too difficult to determine where the stars in the above constellations have shifted.

Here’s what makes me wonder:  What was the world like when the light from Rigel (the right foot of Orion)?

In order to consider this, one has to realize that the light from Rigel left 500 years ago (it’s 500 light years away).  That would mean in the year 1514, light particles separated themselves from this bluish-white supergiant, hurtled through the void of space, penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere and landed in an observer’s field of vision.

Copernicus, in 1514, had his own questions regarding the sky above him.  During that year, he made his first observations of Saturn.  Data gathered from this and other observations of Mars and the Sun led him to discover the earth’s orbital eccentricity, or deviation from a perfect circle.  He  also was of the radical opinion at the time that the Earth was not in the center of the solar system.  Ptolomeic theory, officially approved by the Catholic Church and accepted as the only explanation for things planetary and universal, also decreed that orbits were perfect circles, and, as an added bonus, the Earth was indeed the center of the universe.

All this must have seemed like great science fiction to the ever wise fathers and hierarchy in Rome.  Though Copernicus took minor orders in the Catholic church, his faith in God must have been piqued when he made his discoveries.  Imagine that all he ever believed was suddenly called into question because of the methodical works and meticulous observations of the nighttime sky.  What to do?  Believe what nature tells you?  Or what the Catholic Church orders you to believe?

Imagine the conversation Copernicus held with colleagues, who presumably believed he might be onto something.  Now try telling that to the village priest, who might have considered him to be the village idiot or instrument of the devil.  “Say, guess what?” Copernicus’ conversation might have began.  “I found out we’re not in the center of the universe any more!  And guess what else?  Earth rotates around the sun, not the other way around!  How about that?  Like, OMG, that’s a BFD!”

For the average citizen in 1514, who might not have had a grasp of scientific principles, this was blasphemy, pure and simple.  But the thing was, Copernicus only shared this info with a handful of people.  It wasn’t until years later, as he neared death, that his work on his findings was published.  Others, such as Galileo, took the heat for this and other discoveries until science finally raised his heavy hoof and triumphed.

There’s parallels here.  What seemed so absolutely wild, even one hundred years ago, is feasible now.  All because a person woke up one morning and said, “Now, what will I find out there among the stars?”  It didn’t matter that the light shining on them was from 1514, or 240 BCE.  Or visible from earth.  That person knew the stars held secrets worth sharing, and he/she set out to tap into them.

So.  Go out and observe Orion.  Say hi to Rigel.  Ponder all that happened in the time that passed during those 500 years of light travel.  Tap into it.  Take a piece with you. Take a chance.  Make a change.

After all, our future shoots right out of our past.

Posted February 24, 2014 by seleneymoon in Uncategorized

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2 responses to “The Future of our Past

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  1. Excellent article. Spent two months in Costa Rica recently and I had to stargaze nearly every night. Coming back home I can’t see anything unfortunately, being so close to NYC. But interesting food for thought. Thank you.

  2. If you don’t have this book in your collection already, I’ll recommend it: “The Stars” by H.A. Rey – you know, the guy who wrote “Curious George.” I’ve had it since the 6th Grade and I still refer to it. He makes it simple to understand the constellations, basic astronomical concepts, etc. He even has a little bit devoted to people who live in cities.

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