It was one of those dinnertime topics of conversations with a couple of friends and we got to talking about the whole issue of “intelligent design” and science and how the two should never mix. My own viewpoint is that science is pretty darned cool at giving us answers and that extraordinary claims (like invoking some deity for evolution) require extraordinary proof.
So, we got to talking about scientific things that inspire awe in people, that make them ask questions and want to search out answers. For one of our friends, it was a glimpse of a video about biology that set off the thoughts. And I got to thinking about the things I’ve seen in the cosmos that always make me think, “Hmmm…I wonder what that’s like?” or “Hmmm… how cool is that?”
So, what makes me think “Hmmm” and why?
A few years ago, a bunch of us went to Florida to observe Mars during opposition. We were going after a sort of rare vision: the glint of sunlight off of ice in Sinus Sabaeus. We actually managed to bag it, and several of us got our names in an IAU circular announcing the observation. I thought that was pretty cool. During the early morning viewing session when we all saw the glints, I had this really cool realization that I was looking at another world in real time. It may sound pretty banal now that we have spacecraft giving us, essentially, daily webcam views of Mars. But for that night and that experience, it was awe-inspiring.
Another thing that made me go “hmm” lately was a view of the Orion Nebula from HST. You know the one I’m talking about (from a couple of entries ago). It just gets better and better each time we look at that starbirth nursery. Well, that picture, coupled with an image of comet dust that I saw recently during my research for one of the Griffith Observatory exhibits, took me way back to the origins of our solar system. That piece of dust, which was created way back before the Sun and planets formed, came from the death of a star that blew up as a supernova a long, long time ago (at least more than 4.5 billion years ago).
Now, if I could pick up that dust, I’d be holding a piece of cosmic history in my hand.
But, even cooler than that is the fact that the blood coursing through my hand has elements that were created in stars that died long ago. I AM starstuff. And THAT, my friends, is an idea that truly has me saying, “Hmmm.”