Getting excited about astronomy

I like the night sky as much as anyone. Nothing beats living in a place where clean air and lack of light pollution can give you some wonderful views of the stars. I don’t know much about the subject, but I can recognise the more familiar groups. Orion’s Belt, The Big Dipper, all those usual suspects that most of us have been shown, or taught about, at some time in our lives.

As I got older, the makers of television programmes latched onto the growing interest in the Universe. More entertaining less technical shows on the subject started to appear. From one of these, I learned that the light we see from a star is actually caused by the fact that it has exploded, countless centuries ago. That light from the explosion takes so long to reach our part of the galaxy, that it remains shining constantly, so we can see it when conditions are right. I confess that really taxed my levels of understanding. These stars have been viewed for thousands of years, and have fascinated mankind since he first stood on two legs, and gazed upward. Yet in 2017, I can look out of my window this evening, and see that same light as the caveman from thousands of years ago.

That gave me quite a headache, I can tell you, trying to work out how that could happen. The space-time continuum, the theory of relativity, light speed, and many other technical terms were thrown at me from the TV. Most were (and still are) completely beyond the comprehension of this mere mortal. I just like the twinkling lights in the sky over Norfolk. I should never have tried to discover why they were there. But I stuck with the subject, finally getting the most basic grasp of what they were on about.

More recently, there was a great deal of excitement in the halls of astronomy. Not only has a new planet been discovered, presumably using some remarkable telescope, they were sure that the planet was ‘Earth-like’, and might well contain water. They came to this assumption by studying the images of the surface, and when interviewed on TV, the experts were literally beside themselves with joy. Imagine the kerfuffle when they went on to discover some seven more ‘Earth-like’ planets orbiting a star that they named Trappist-1. I was swept up in the enthusiasm. Could this be the answer to mankind’s problems? New worlds to inhabit, science fiction becoming fact?

I immediately wanted to discover more. The first discovery was named Kepler 186f, after the NASA telescope. It is about the size of Earth, but the view we saw on TV was not a photograph, rather an ‘artistic impression’. The speculation about life or water existing there was just that, speculation. All the ‘findings’ appear to be based on rough measurement of the size of the planet, and its position relative to other planets in the Constellation Cygnus. I was still excited. We should start building the Starfleet transports, I thought. After all, it’s got to be worth a try? Then I noticed something I had overlooked. Kepler 186f is located 500 Light Years from Earth. Not local then.

I looked it up.
‘According to Guinness World Records, the Fastest spacecraft speed is 246,960 km/h. A light year is 9.461e+12 km. So, 500 light years would take: 9.461e+12*500/(246,690*24*365) = 2,186,565 years.’
(Let’s face it, not many of us could have worked that out, even with a good calculator)
So, just 2.2 (less change) MILLION years to get there, using the best technology available today.

I’m not excited anymore. Not in the least.


43 thoughts on “Getting excited about astronomy

  1. Really good read!! I would like to offer a slight correction though (assuming that advanced higher physics has taught me right!!). When you are referring to the star’s shine being due to the fact that it has exploded, I think you are talking about a supernova, instead of the actual star. So if you see a large bright patch in the sky then yes, it’s likely to be due to a supernova, or the star exploding outwards in the past. Stars like our sun shine because there is a nuclear reaction going on in its core, in which 2 hydrogen atoms fuse to form helium, and 2 helium atoms fuse to form carbon, etc. These reactions release a lot of energy in the form of visible light, infrared radiation (heat), UV and some X-rays, microwaves etc. Just a little physics lesson for you there, now you can go impress your friends and family πŸ˜‰


    1. Thanks for clearing that up, Erin. I’m hardly any the wiser, despite your academic explanation. Writing that the stars shine because they are ancient explosions was the best I could manage, given my total lack of knowledge about the subject. I wasn’t even thinking about the Sun, only the ones that twinkle at night. It was also not that serious a post, and meant to be mildly humourous. πŸ™‚
      Oh, and I saw Brian Cox say that our Sun is going to explode one day. Makes me wonder why I bother to write this stuff…
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s always surprising to see the stars when I’m out of the city. It seems like most of the time only the satellites are bright enough to be seen.
    I refuse to believe we are the only rock with life & it is exciting to think we are getting closer to finding it.
    Nice post Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice skies in Norfolk mate. Does make you think there must be something out there.
      But it won’t be on those stars, as they have all exploded. And two million years is a long time to sit in economy class, with a baby crying in the row behind… πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, RPD. Your kind comment is much appreciated. Don’t think about this sort of thing too long though. You might end up like I did, sitting in a dark corner, wondering what life is all about! πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. OMG. So much thoughts! I can understand the matter with the headache!
    When I heard on the radio of the discovery and the distance, I was also disappointed!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Science was my bailiwick ‘back in the day’ but with technology moving ahead so quickly these days, it’s all over my head. (pun – a happy coincidence), but i still like to look up and wonder.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One of the coolest things I ever saw was the rings of Saturn through a good telescope in college. After that, nothing looks quite as good. But I still like looking up, feet firmly planted on the earth! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  6. With any luck, a more advanced civilization with warp speed (or able to create and move through black holes, or make some kind of quantum leap) will drop by and give a few of us a lift. I’m putting milk and cookies out tonight to increase my chances of being one of the lucky few.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When Star Trek first started, all those years ago, (1966?) I used to imagine warp speed would be a reality. I thought it would be around the year 2000. How wrong was I? Even family cars go no faster than they did back then…
      I hope they manage to spot your milk and cookies!
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Chocolate is coveted throughout the cosmos. I still enjoy “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but Kubrick (and Clarke) should have advanced the date to 2101. Maybe by then… But like you, I wish the future would get here sooner–as long as I’m still in it!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post, Pete! From one mere mortal to another, it is difficult to grasp much of the science associated with space. Now, I remember listening to Carl Sagan explain things. He did an excellent job. Like you, I mostly want to enjoy star gazing.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I needed a laugh and you’ve provided it. Perhaps you’d get excited again if you talked to my niece. She’s studying Physics at St Mary’s University in London. It is a highly taxing subject and I can get my head around very little. Night night. x

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As a youngster I wrestled with the concept of Trelane (The Squire Of Gothos) peering through his telescope looking at Earth a thousand years in the past and assuming it was the present.
    By that marker one could imagine, looking up at the night sky, that most of the universe is not even there as you see it now.
    In fact, if our own sun were to suddenly stop shining we would not know it for.. 25-30 minutes because of the distance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We would have something of a shock after that 30 minutes, Doug!
      If the stars all blew up thousands of years ago, then the sky as we now it cannot possibly exist in real time. But what is real time? I feel that headache starting again…
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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