Looking to the Heavens

April 13, 2012

Throughout human history, looking to the heavens has always intrigued and awed us.  For much of that history, the nature of the universe we live is was unknown, much of its nature still is.  To cope, humans placed supernatural qualities upon the night sky.  Still, as we look back to our ancestors, it seems they understood they were connected to it somehow, just as we are today.  As knowledge progressed, so did our understanding of that connection.  Whether we use the sky to navigate, tell a horoscope, look for evidence of God, or study it its vastness to

First Picture from Space

understand how everything came to be, it is certainly one bad-ass place.

Just over sixty-five years ago, the first pictures from space were recorded[i].  They were taken from a German V-2 rocket captured after World War II.  (Click here to watch the newsreel clip)  Not until then, did we really know if space beyond our atmosphere looked like what we thought.  From the beginning of recorded time, to just over sixty-five years ago, we could only guess.  Since then, we have been on sort of a photographic orgy when it comes our consumption of pictures from space.

Still, it was not until the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in April of 1990 (Happy Anniversary Hubble!) that the “awe-factor” went through the roof.  Its ability to take images without the distortion caused by our atmosphere put its images in a class of their own.   They are simply stunning.  HST is in the last phase of its life-cycle.  Currently, Hubble is joined by the Spitzer Space Telescope (SST), launched in 2003 and when HST is no longer operational, SST will still be feeding our need for pictures from the farthest reaches of the universe.  My only hope

Crab Nebula

is we do not allow HST to fall to earth and burn up in the atmosphere.  It needs to be in the Air & Space Museum.

Sometimes when I look at these images, I feel really small.  At the same time, I am comforted knowing I am part of such a vast and wonderful universe.  After all, even a cell in your fingernail gets to be part of you as a whole.  Without it, you would be diminished.  Without us, the universe would be diminished too.

As it is, we get to enjoy the pictures from our orbiting telescopes, even if we do not understand just how things like a planetary nebular really form.  We guess and theorize but, just like before that picture from the V-2, we do not know.  Maybe that is the real draw; space holds the same sort of magic for us today as it did for our ancestors thousands of years ago.  While thy wondered about these dots of lights racing through the sky, we wonder at a nebula sixty-five thousand light-years away.  While we think of their astral mythology as antiquated, perhaps our descendants thousands of years from now will view E=mc2 and the Big Bang Theory the same way.

Star-Forming Region of NGC 3324

[i] Reichhardt, Tony. “AirSpaceMag.com.” Air and Space Magazine. Smithsonian Institution, National Air & Space Museum, Nov. 2006. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.



  1. I totally agree with all you say here, Michael. The mystery of the heavens is far beyond what any generation will ever grasp. Who knows what new theories and findings will arise in the future. For now, I too am thankful for being a part of this vast universe! For me, gazing in the night sky is an awesome treat!

    • It is one of the places where you can see the current generations builds upon the work of the last. Without Copernicus, there would be no Galileo.

      • Indeed! Great insight you have, sir! I’m always pleased to read your writings.

  2. “While we think of their astral mythology as antiquated, perhaps our descendants thousands of years from now will view E=mc2 and the Big Bang Theory the same way.”

    I once tried asking a lecturer after the lecture the same reasoning as I was not satisfied with the theory he was explaining. He just gave me a befuddling look and without answering me, just went away.

    I felt bad, but I had made my point.

    • I do understand your point, I have seen that same look on faces many times. While I feel bad, it makes me wonder why I was listening to them in the first place. I mean if a question can befuddle them, just how much research did they do to formulate their opinion?

  3. I feel exactly the same way, Michael: such a small speck in the vastness of it all and yet eternally grateful to be that speck.

    The full moon was amazing and seeing the alignment of the planets was pretty darn cool too. Every night I check out the night sky. Every night.

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