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jamesm334

What is the purpose of astronomy?

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Greetings, all:

I am writing a Master's thesis on astronomy and literature (specifically poetry), and I am looking for a good introduction on what the two share in common. I have been reading Chet Raymo's essays in "The Soul of the Night", and those have been quite helpful in thinking about the topic. But I thought it would be much more helpful to cast a net here. Does anyone know any particularly poignant statements on why we look at the stars or why we write poetry (or, ideally, both!). If you don't know any good quotes, please feel free to share your own thoughts. Certainly this many keen minds can arrive at a poignant statement of our own.

Why do we look at the stars? Why do we write literature? Are writers and astronomers looking for the same thing in the end?

Gratefully,

jamesm334

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Why do we look at the stars? That is some question, but for me anyway, with out getting to soppy, it's where we are from, it's not seperated from us as we think ('we' in general terms I mean)...there isn't 'space' and us on earth...we're a part of it, it is where we are from....just as I get a lovely nostalgic feeling from driving past the house I grew up in when I visit Kent, I get a feeling of belonging to something much bigger when I look at the stars......it puts many earthly problems and worries on the back burner, and in perspective......it's like the ultimate escapism, only in a very real way!

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The Introduction to Webb's "Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes" is probably a good source ... Webb being a clergyman it's an expanded and poetic version of "the heavens above declare the glory of God" but, to those of us who lack religious faith, astronomy may be a sort of surrogate.

BTW Webb's book - first published over 150 years ago - remains a valuable resource to visual observers with small(ish) telescopes; our understanding of the science may have been altogether transformed in the interim, but the view through the eyepiece remains pretty much the same.

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Although I don't agree with some of Carl Sagan's ideas, for me, his very

famous statement "We are starstuff" stands out.

Ultimately, astronomy is about who and what we are.

Regards, Ed.

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for me its simple, its all up there just waiting to be seen :)

before I was interested in it I was ignorant to it and had no appreciation of the Cosmos, now a few years later, I find it a source of relaxation and wonder, can be very humbling experience observing something of the majesty like M42 :p

Edited by Nexus 6

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I think people who write poetry do it because they like story telling and at the same time stirring the soul. It seems to be a human tendency to want to make others feel stuff and understand them.

Looking at the stars is an exploration reminiscent of man's innate desire to learn stuff, and holds a fascination because everything up there is so vast and distant that it makes you realise how insignificant the Earth and the human race is.

As for me - I just like collecting expensive equipment and admiring it set up in the lounge on a rainy night lol :)

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To me one similarity that poetry and astronomy might indeed have, is that they both attempt to put into perspective the human condition and our struggle to understand ourselves better. Both attempt to transport us out of ourselves by offering points of reference that helps us to reflect and understand not only what we are and who we might be, but perhaps more importantly, what is our real purpose. Ultimately poetry and astronomy are two different devices that both provide us with the possibility to stop, to look beyond ourselves, in order to transport us from our everyday lives and failings - be it briefly.

Having said all that, you should here some of my poetry I come out with when I can't get the scope to perform a decent three star alignment or when I have driven some ten miles only to remember I've forgotten the power supply!:p:D I'm not even going to mention my loud outbursts which broadly attempts to define my perspective on the universe when I see the onset of clouds after setting up the whole kit!!! :)

Clear skies (wisdom)

James

Edited by JamesM

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I think it is human nature to want to know more. It's why we read books, explore the world and everything we can experience.

I think astronomy is an extension of this, exploring the universe and our place in it. The five most important words are: How, When, Where, When and What. They drive us through life from infancy through to old age.

The more we understand about our world, solar system, galaxy and universe the more we understand ourselves.

On a simpler level I just love to see the beauty and awesomeness (is that a word) of the night skies. As has been already said.It is humbling.:)

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As for me - I just like collecting expensive equipment and admiring it set up in the lounge on a rainy night lol :)

I'm sure that each and every one of us can partialy admit to that statement. I can.

Al

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To realise how insignificant we are in our tiny part of the cosmos and snapshot of time and just how significant we are because we are in such a tiny part of the cosmos and for such a short time.

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The five most important words are: How, When, Where, When and What.

Oops!

How, When, Where, Who and What.

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my personal reason is i have no beliefs or religious outlooks...so i like to see the beauty in natural wonders created by catastrophic events (pretty gloomy but fascinating)...and anything that makes me say ''wow'' is a winner everytime.

its hard to put to words but every image i see i always wonder if somewhere....someone is staring back thinking......... ''i wonder if someone is staring back?'' and i truly hope in my lifetime we find life beyond the 500 miles of atmosphere that surrounds us.

Edited by Axe

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What is the purpose of astronomy - to me it is to feel alive

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I wish you well in your quest. I studied and taught English lit for years before drifting into astronomy.

I would not want to overlook beauty or elegance of expression, I think. For instance, I can't accept Allan Chapman's account of why Copernicus did not want to publish. (Fear of ridicule). I think it far more likely that Copernicus realized that his sets of epicycles were an inelegant (unpoetic) mess and not at all what he set out to produce as a young man. Mathematicians are very poetic. The intuition of astronomers is often driven by a sense of elegance. If it can't be expressed simply it is probably wrong. How simple is E=MCsquared?

Olly

PS, I don't spend much time thinking about purposes. They don't exist in nature. Nature deals only in consequences.

Edited by ollypenrice

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I loathe the term spirituality but the night sky does elicit an emotional response of awe, wonder, longing and surprisingly home. Understanding the universe makes it seem so less alien and other. which I guess in some ways is what people mean by having a spiritual experience. That sense of "here is where I fit in". I don't often try to rationalise it. It just makes me feel good. And it is beautiful isn't it?

Edited by rowan46

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Astronomy is a study of part of Physics, Physics is everything.

As Lawrence Krauss says, he has to lie when he expalins things with words as the truth is in the numbers.

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I loathe the term spirituality but the night sky does elicit an emotional response of awe, wonder, longing and surprisingly home. Understanding the universe makes it seem so less alien and other. which I guess in some ways is what people mean by having a spiritual experience. That sense of "here is where I fit in". I don't often try to rationalise it. It just makes me feel good. And it is beautiful isn't it?

absolutely mate, am in total agreement :)

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Astronomy is a study of part of Physics, Physics is everything.

As Lawrence Krauss says, he has to lie when he expalins things with words as the truth is in the numbers.

It's a fair point earl But ultimately I reject it. We are not all mathematicians. It's like saying theres no point giving directions to a foreigner who is lost as they can't understand. You have to use a system that they can understand. sometimes near enough is good enough to get them to where they want to go.

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Even though you chose to reject it, it does not change that facts. The universe carries on as it always will regardless of what its passengers think or wish.

Everything can be put in a way people comprehend of all different levels, but it does not change where it all comes from.

Edited by Earl

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Looking at the star filled night sky at the thousands of stars in our galaxy that we can see, and beyond, the billions and billions of suns we don't see. Wondering if we are an intelligence alone in the whole universe. A staggering thought. Just as staggering of course, is that we aren't.

I'm not sure we will ever know for sure, one way or the other.

I use the word intelligence loosely :).

Ron.

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your not alone Ron, however you look at it its an amazing thing :)

Edited by Nexus 6

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For me astronomy is a method of relaxing, away from the hectic and stressful times of every day life.

I still struggle to comprehend the sheer scales involved, to look at something with your own eyes 2 million light years away is just amazing. My wife does not share my enthusiasm, actually it gives her heart palpitations just thinking about the size of the universe.

For me the thought that every element in our bodies and the environment around us started off in the death throws of an exploding supernova is just mind boggling.

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