We live in interesting times. Look at the first 100,000 years of modern humans on the planet: You have a long struggle to find food and shelter, followed by 5,000 years of early civilization and city-building, followed by technology giving us a mature understanding of the cosmos just in the last century.
That’s pretty incredible stuff. Given the fact that modern humans have been around for 5,000 generations that we’re just getting to know the basic story of the universe and how it came to be is mind-boggling. As with all complex scientific questions, some answers are completely known, others are generally understood, and the remainder aren’t known. We’re just starting to see where the questions might take us — without the rich details that will come down the road.
Some of the questions which we have already tried to explore and continue to do so are surely the heavy-weights, like: How old is the universe? How large? What started the cosmos? How did galaxies form? Are we alone? What will ultimately become of life on Earth? Many of these questions — although in somewhat different forms — undoubtedly darted through early humans’ minds as they gazed skyward.
Looking toward a heaven full of twinkling lights, they probably pondered what they were viewing and why they inhabited this rocky little world. These big questions are answered only in part, and some haven’t yet been answered. And then come finer questions of the cosmos — questions unimaginable until recent times: What are gamma-ray bursts? Why did Mars dry out? Can light escape from black holes? Where do cosmic rays come from? Does string theory control the universe? What creates gravitational waves?
Like all sciences, astronomy is a work-in-progress, one that moves along toward understanding a little at a time, bit by bit. But you will have many of the answers, and you will perceive the questions and the astronomers’ work more clearly than before. As an astronomy enthusiast, whether you’re an active observer or an armchair reader, you’ll have a much deeper understanding of where astronomy stands.
Perhaps, most importantly, you’ll have fun with the subject. At the next cocktail party, you’ll have great conversation starters. Among others interested in the universe, you’ll hold sway with a vault of knowledge. When the subject comes up at an astronomy club meeting, you can chime in about high-energy particles, cosmic inflation, why Venus turned itself inside-out, and how Saturn’s rings formed.
That’s really the most satisfying part of this hobby: enjoying the quest for knowledge, placing what we see around us into some kind of meaningful context. After your investment of time in this relaxing, interesting reading of our posts, you’ll enjoy a greater perspective about the deep, dark universe surrounding us.