Astronomers who do not draw theistic or deistic conclusions are becoming rare, and even the few dissenters hint that the tide is against them. Geoffrey Burbidge, of the University of California at San Diego, complains that his fellow astronomers are rushing off to join 'the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang.'
Light and the human is poorly understood by the astronomical profession, with many astronomers not understanding which light bulbs they should have in their own homes and offices! It is embarrassing that astronomers do not understand the many forms of artificial lighting that they are exposed to every day and how it affects them.
Some readers may realize that this story, first published in 1956, has been overtaken by events. In 1965, astronomers discovered that Mercury does not keep one side always to the Sun, but has a period of rotation of about fifty-four days, so that all parts of it are exposed to the sunlight at one time or another. Well, what can I do except say that I wish astronomers would get things right to begin with? And I certainly refuse to change the story to suit their whims.
Astronomers do not commonly use Venereal, in favor of the less contagious-sounding Venutian. Blame the medical community, who snatched the word long before astronomers had any good use for it. I suppose you can't blame the doctors. Venus is the goddess of beauty and love, so she ought to be the goddess of its medical consequences.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Astronomers are pure of heart and appealingly puerile. They look into the midnight sky and ask big questions, just as we did when we were in college: Who are we? Where do we come from? And why are we standing around outside on the night before finals, do we want to end up making elevator parts for a living like our father or what?
Have you noticed that the astronomers and mathematicians are much the most cheerful people of the lot? I suppose that perpetually contemplating things on so vast a scale makes them feel either that it doesn't matter a hoot anyway, or that anything so large and elaborate must have some sense in it somewhere.
Dorothy L. Sayers
The scorn which I had reason to fear on account of the novelty and unconventionality of my opinion almost induced me to abandon completely the work which I had undertaken. . . . Astronomy is written for astronomers. To them my work too will seem, unless I am mistaken, to make some contribution.
Today we know not only that there is a terrible amount of disorder in the heavens - great catastrophes or conflagrations occur frequently - but evolution gives us a perfectly natural explanation of such order as there is. No distinguished astronomer now traces "the finger of God" in the heavens; and astronomers ought to know best.
Astronomers are obsessed with building larger and larger telescopes. There are two promises that we make with bigger telescopes: that they can see fainter things and that they see more detail. But it's been really hard to follow through on that second promise because of atmospheric distortion.
Andrea M. Ghez
The cosmic game changed forever in 1992. Before then, logic told us that there had to be other planets besides the nine (if you still count poor Pluto) in our solar system, but until that year, when two astronomers detected faint, telltale radio signals in the constellation Virgo, we had no hard evidence of their existence.
People get cranky when you burst their bubble. Over time, advances in astronomy have relentlessly reinforced the utter insignificance of Earth on a celestial scale. Fortunately, political and religious leaders stopped barbecuing astronomers for saying so, turning their spits with human-rights activists instead.
The future of the next generation relies on astronomers obtaining a full understanding of the rapidly changing human environmental conditions and the halting of biologically toxic corporate government policies. The overloading of the electromagnetic environment is one of these disastrous policies that must stop.
Astronomers have been bewildered by the theory of an expanding universe, but there is no less expansion in the moral infinite of the universe of man. As far as the frontiers of science are pushed back, over the extended arc of these frontiers one will hear the poet's hounds on the chase.
Radio astronomers study radio waves from space using sensitive antennas and receivers, which give them precise information about what an astronomical object is and where it is in our night sky. And just like the signals that we send and receive here on Earth, we can convert these transmissions into sound using simple analog techniques.
When I'm asked about the relevance to Black people of what I do, I take that as an affront. It presupposes that Black people have never been involved in exploring the heavens, but this is not so. Ancient African empires - Mali, Songhai, Egypt - had scientists, astronomers. The fact is that space and its resources belong to all of us, not to any one group.
One of the primary ways that astronomers study stars is to spread their light out into a rainbow, which we call a spectrum, and from that rainbow, we can learn something about what the stars are composed of and how hot they are, how bright they are, and how they're moving, at least how they're moving toward or away from us.
A 1977 poll of American astronomers, published in JSE, showed the following. Out of 2611 questionnaires 1356 were returned. In response to whether the UFO problem deserved further study the replies were: 23% certainly, 30% probably, 27% percent possibly, 17% probably not, 3% certainly not. Interestingly, there was a positive correlation between the amount of reading done on the subject and the opinion that further study was in order...
The astronomers said, 'Give us matter and a little motion and we will construct the universe. It is not enough that we should have matter, we must also have a single impulse, one shove to launch the mass and generate the harmony of the centrifugal and centripetal forces.' ... There is no end to the consequences of the act. That famous aboriginal push propagates itself through all the balls of the system, and through every atom of every ball.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
NancyAccording to astronomers, every atom in my body was forged in a star. I am made, they insist, of stardust. I am stardust braided into strands and streamers of information, proteins and DNA, double helixes of stardust. In every cell of my body there is a thread of stardust as long as my arm.
So we down-to-earth, gutsy, tough, realistic, and practical types have just been squandering billions of dollars and unimaginable amounts of energy, nerve-work, and materials in whizzing off to the moon to discover, as astronomers knew before, that it was just a dreary slag heap. This is the true, original and scientifically etymological meaning of being lunatics. Crying for the moon.
Earlier maps had underestimated the distances to other continents and exaggerated the outlines of individual nations. Now global dimensions could be set, with authority, by the celestial spheres. Indeed, King Louis XIV of France, confronted with a revised map of his domain based on accurate longitude measurements, reportedly complained that he was losing more territory to his astronomers than to his enemies.
I do not see how astronomers can help feeling exquisitely insignificant, for every new page of the Book of the Heavens they open reveals to them more and more that the world we are so proud of is to the universe of careening globes as is one mosquito to the winged and hoofed flocks and herds that darken the air and populate the plains and forests of all the earth. If you killed the mosquito would it be missed? Verily, What is Man, that he should be considered of God?
There is nothing as dreamy and poetic, nothing as radical, subversive, and psychedelic, as mathematics. It is every bit as mind blowing as cosmology or physics (mathematicians conceived of black holes long before astronomers actually found any), and allows more freedom of expression than poetry, art, or music (which depends heavily on properties of the physical universe). Mathematics is the purest of the arts, as well as the most misunderstood.
By the way, were we to find life-forms on Venus, we would probably call them Venutians, just as people from Mars would be Martians. But according to rules of Latin genitives, to be "of Venus" ought to make you a Venereal. Unfortunately, medical doctors reached that word before astronomers did. Can't blame them, I suppose. Venereal disease long predates astronomy, which itself stands as only the second oldest profession.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Evidence in support of general relativity came quickly. Astronomers had long known that Mercury's orbital motion around the sun deviated slightly from what Newton's mathematics predicted. In 1915, Einstein used his new equations to recalculate Mercury's trajectory and was able to explain the discrepancy, a realization he later described to his colleague Adrian Fokker as so thrilling that for some hours it gave him heart palpitations.
It is interesting to observe with what singular unanimity the farthest sundered nations and generations consent to give completeness and roundness to an ancient fable, of which they indistinctly appreciate the beauty or the truth. By a faint and dream-like effort, though it be only by the vote of a scientific body, the dullest posterity slowly add some trait to the mythus. As when astronomers call the lately discovered planet Neptune; or the asteroid Astr
Henry David Thoreau
Astronomers... have a common ground for discussion with musicians in the harmony of the stars and musical concords in tetrads and triads of the fourth and the fifth, and with geometricians in the subject of vision; and in all other sciences many points, perhaps all, are common so far as the discussion of them is concerned. But the actual undertaking of works which are brought to perfection by the hand and its manipulation is the function of those who have been specially trained to deal with a single art.
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio
[In high school] my interests outside my academic work were debating, tennis, and to a lesser extent, acting. I became intensely interested in astronomy and devoured the popular works of astronomers such as Sir Arthur Eddington and Sir James Jeans, from which I learnt that a knowledge of mathematics and physics was essential to the pursuit of astronomy. This increased my fondness for those subjects.
Allan McLeod Cormack
The dark dangerous forest is still there, my friends. Beyond the space of the astronauts and the astronomers, beyond the dark, tangled regions of Freudian and Jungian psychiatry, beyond the dubious psi-realms of Dr. Rhine, beyond the areas policed by the commissars and priests and motivations-research men, far, far beyond the mad, beat, half-hysterical laughter... the utterly unknown still is and the eerie and ghostly lurk, as much wrapped in mystery as ever.
[At high school in Cape Town] my interests outside my academic work were debating, tennis, and to a lesser extent, acting. I became intensely interested in astronomy and devoured the popular works of astronomers such as Sir Arthur Eddington and Sir James Jeans, from which I learnt that a knowledge of mathematics and physics was essential to the pursuit of astronomy. This increased my fondness for those subjects.
Allan McLeod Cormack
Throughout history, humankind has been resistant to change and to the acceptance of new ideas... When Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter, the astronomers of that time refused to accept or even to look at these satellites because the existence of these moons conflicted with their accepted beliefs. So it is now with psychiatrists and other therapists, who refuse to examine and evaluate the considerable evidence being gathered about survival after bodily death and about past life memories. Their eyes are tightly shut.
Perhaps I had better inform my Protestant readers that the famous Dogma of Papal Infallibility is by far the most modest pretension of the kind in existence. Compared with our infallible democracies, our infallible medical councils, our infallible astronomers, our infallible judges, and our infallible parliaments, the Pope is on his knees in the dust confessing his ignorance before the throne of God, asking only that as to certain historical matters on which he has clearly more sources of information open to him than anyone else his decision shall be taken as final.
George Bernard Shaw
Only in the Roman Empire and in Spain under Arab domination has culture been a potent factor. Under the Arab, the standard attained was wholly admirable; to Spain flocked the greatest scientists, thinkers, astronomers, and mathematicians of the world, and side by side there flourished a spirit of sweet human tolerance and a sense of purist chivalry. Then with the advent of Christianity, came the barbarians.
The sky pulsed with stars. Some people say it makes them lonesome when they stare up at the night sky. I can't imagine why. There's no shortage of company. By now there's not a constellation I can't name. Orion. Lupus. Serpens. Hercules. Draco. My father taught me all of their stories. So when I look up I see a galaxy of adventures and heroes and villains, all jostling together and trying to outdo one another, and I sometimes want to tell them to hush up and not distract me with their chatter. I've glimpsed all the stars ever discovered by astronomers, and plenty that haven't been.
My achievements in science came about because I knew what I wanted to do, and I found professional colleagues among helpful, gentle astronomers. I was never discouraged by others who were sometimes discouraging. Instead, I insisted on working on problems outside the main stream of astronomy so that I could work at my own pace and not be pressured by bandwagons. I do not offer this as an example for you, but only to show that there can be diverse approaches to science. There must be. I hope some of you will be able to devise your own paths through the complex sociology of science. Science is competitive, aggressive, demanding. It is also imaginative, inspiring, uplifting. You can do it, too.
Astronomy is so easy to love. ... Fairly or not, physics is associated with nuclear bombs and nuclear waste, chemistry with pesticides, biology with Frankenfood and designer-gene superbabies. But astronomers are like responsible ecotourists, squinting at the scenery through high-quality optical devices, taking nothing but images that may be computer-enhanced for public distribution, leaving nothing but a few Land Rover footprints on faraway Martian soil, and OK, OK, maybe the Land Rover, too.
To reduce modern climate change to one variable, CO2, or a small proportion of one variable - human-induced CO2 - is not science. To try to predict the future based on just one variable (CO2) in extraordinarily complex natural systems is folly. Yet when astronomers have the temerity to show that climate is driven by solar activities rather than CO2 emissions, they are dismissed as dinosaurs undertaking the methods of old-fashioned science.
In the popular mind, if Hoyle is remembered it is as the prime mover of the discredited Steady State theory of the universe. "Everybody knows" that the rival Big Bang theory won the battle of the cosmologies, but few (not even astronomers) appreciate that the mathematical formalism of the now-favoured version of Big Bang, called inflation, is identical to Hoyle's version of the Steady State model.
The definitive study of the herd instincts of astronomers has yet to be written, Fernie said, but there are times when we resemble nothing so much as a herd of antelope, heads down in tight formation, thundering with firm determination in a particular direction across the plain. At a given signal from the leader we whirl about, and, with equally firm determination, thunder off in quite a different direction, still in tight parallel formation. (quoting an observation made by astronomer J. Donal Fernie)
What caused me to undertake the catalog was the nebula I discovered above the southern horn of Taurus on September 12, 1758, while observing the comet of that year... This nebula had such a resemblance to a comet in its form and brightness that I endeavored to find others, so that astronomers would not confuse these same nebulae with comets just beginning to shine. I observed further with suitable refractors for the discovery of comets, and this is the purpose I had in mind in compiling the catalog. After me, the celebrated Herschel published a catalog of 2000 which he has observed. This unveiling the sky, made with instruments of great aperture, does not help in the perusal of the sky for faint comets. Thus my object is different from his, and I need only nebulae visible in a telescope of two feet [focal length].
I had travelled from Spain into Morocco and from there south to the Atlas Mountains, at the edge of the Sahara Desert... one night, in a youth hostel that was more like a stable, I woke and walked out into a snowstorm. But it wasn't the snow I was used to in Minnesota, or anywhere else I had been. Standing bare chest to cool night, wearing flip-flops and shorts, I let a storm of stars swirl around me. I remember no light pollution, heck, I remember no lights. But I remember the light around me-the sense of being lit by starlight- and that I could see the ground to which the stars seemed to be floating down. I saw the sky that night in three dimensions- the sky had depth, some stars seemingly close and some much farther away, the Milky Way so well defined it had what astronomers call 'structure', that sense of its twisting depths. I remember stars from one horizon to another, making a night sky so plush it still seems like a dream. It was a time in my life when I was every day experiencing something new. I felt open to everything, as though I was made of clay, and the world was imprinting on me its breathtaking beauty (and terrible reality.) Standing nearly naked under that Moroccan sky, skin against the air, the dark, the stars, the night pressed its impression, and my lifelong connection was sealed.
The theory of phlogiston was an inversion of the true nature of combustion. Removing phlogiston was in reality adding oxygen, while adding phlogiston was actually removing oxygen. The theory was a total misrepresentation of reality. Phlogiston did not even exist, and yet its existence was firmly believed and the theory adhered to rigidly for nearly one hundred years throughout the eighteenth century... As experimentation continued the properties of phlogiston became more bizarre and contradictory. But instead of questioning the existence of this mysterious substance it was made to serve more comprehensive purposes... For the skeptic or indeed to anyone prepared to step out of the circle of Darwinian belief, it is not hard to find inversions of common sense in modern evolutionary thought which are strikingly reminiscent of the mental gymnastics of the phlogiston chemists or the medieval astronomers. To the skeptic, the proposition that the genetic programmes of higher organisms, consisting of something close to a thousand million bits of information, equivalent to the sequence of letters in a small library of one thousand volumes, containing in encoded form countless thousands of intricate algorithms controlling, specifying and ordering the growth and development of billions and billions of cells into the form of a complex organism, were composed by a purely random process is simply an affront to reason. But to the Darwinist the idea is accepted without a ripple of doubt - the paradigm takes precedence!
Of course the theologians fought the facts found by the geologists, the scientists, and sought to sustain the sacred Scriptures. They mistook the bones of the mastodon for those of human beings, and by them proudly proved that "there were giants in those days." They accounted for the fossils by saying that God had made them to try our faith, or that the Devil had imitated the works of the Creator. They answered the geologists by saying that the "days" in Genesis were long periods of time, and that after all the flood might have been local. They told the astronomers that the sun and moon were not actually, but only apparently, stopped. And that the appearance was produced by the reflection and refraction of light. They excused the slavery and polygamy, the robbery and murder upheld in the Old Testament by saying that the people were so degraded that Jehovah was compelled to pander to their ignorance and prejudice. In every way the clergy sought to evade the facts, to dodge the truth, to preserve the creed. At first they flatly denied the facts - then they belittled them - then they harmonized them - then they denied that they had denied them. Then they changed the meaning of the "inspired" book to fit the facts. At first they said that if the facts, as claimed, were true, the Bible was false and Christianity itself a superstition. Afterward they said the facts, as claimed, were true and that they established beyond all doubt the inspiration of the Bible and the divine origin of orthodox religion. Anything they could not dodge, they swallowed and anything they could not swallow, they dodged. I gave up the Old Testament on account of its mistakes, its absurdities, its ignorance and its cruelty. I gave up the New because it vouched for the truth of the Old. I gave it up on account of its miracles, its contradictions, because Christ and his disciples believe in the existence of devils - talked and made bargains with them. expelled them from people and animals. This, of itself, is enough. We know, if we know anything, that devils do not exist - that Christ never cast them out, and that if he pretended to, he was either ignorant, dishonest or insane.
Robert G. Ingersoll
I compared what was really known about the stars with the account of creation as told in Genesis. I found that the writer of the inspired book had no knowledge of astronomy - that he was as ignorant as a Choctaw chief - as an Eskimo driver of dogs. Does any one imagine that the author of Genesis knew anything about the sun - its size? that he was acquainted with Sirius, the North Star, with Capella, or that he knew anything of the clusters of stars so far away that their light, now visiting our eyes, has been traveling for two million years? If he had known these facts would he have said that Jehovah worked nearly six days to make this world, and only a part of the afternoon of the fourth day to make the sun and moon and all the stars? Yet millions of people insist that the writer of Genesis was inspired by the Creator of all worlds. Now, intelligent men, who are not frightened, whose brains have not been paralyzed by fear, know that the sacred story of creation was written by an ignorant savage. The story is inconsistent with all known facts, and every star shining in the heavens testifies that its author was an uninspired barbarian. I admit that this unknown writer was sincere, that he wrote what he believed to be true - that he did the best he could. He did not claim to be inspired - did not pretend that the story had been told to him by Jehovah. He simply stated the "facts" as he understood them. After I had learned a little about the stars I concluded that this writer, this "inspired" scribe, had been misled by myth and legend, and that he knew no more about creation than the average theologian of my day. In other words, that he knew absolutely nothing. And here, allow me to say that the ministers who are answering me are turning their guns in the wrong direction. These reverend gentlemen should attack the astronomers. They should malign and vilify Kepler, Copernicus, Newton, Herschel and Laplace. These men were the real destroyers of the sacred story. Then, after having disposed of them, they can wage a war against the stars, and against Jehovah himself for having furnished evidence against the truthfulness of his book.
Robert G. Ingersoll