We need time to sustain Astronomy enterprises



 

Time is part of our daily routine. We seek it, naturally.  We hope to properly manage the one we have left. Time appears to be what set our priorities, expectancy,  the development of “senior” ideas about people and arguments we tend to address as a constant daily issue.

Time is part of scientific discoveries, as basic requirement to analyze diverse information along with the outcomes we witness in our research and projects that are still on trial. We need time to make sense on what is going on toward our eyes, flair, mind, path, reports, risky or checked data…

What we can recognize or hazard to say is that there are no questions on the fact that qualities like dynamism and intuition are only tiny parts of the whole picture depicted by the scientific enterprise, allowed by the curiosity and dedication of ancient civilizations who came up to shape and direct resources, along with THEIR time trying to make sense and understand what was going on in nature, referring to their senses.

Even today, astronomy can be defined as the most dynamic science with all the discoveries broadcasted in international papers, scientific radios, national podcast (such as the ones of the BBC and the Guardian I listen to periodically) and all the relevant channels (good ones, hopefully) you may have in mind…

However, despite all these new data and information, we should bear in mind that astronomy it’s also the oldest science we can account. Remembering its historical records, we are able to say how it started to influence our ideas with the observations of the night sky, epochs before instruments able to tell its features, such as the telescope, was invented.

Ancient civilizations recur to astronomy to achieve several purposes, above which we may highlight daily timekeeping, monitoring lunar cycles, significant prediction of eclipses, tracking the season and calendar updates registration. The sky was like a map, an unchangeable clock and a pleasant mutant book of stories that we were deeply attracted to, completely devoted to understanding their fundamental behavior and inner trends. We wanted to communicate the paragraph of these stories to our peers, children and families. We wanted to have an access to them.

Clearly, these desires were firstly “negotiated” by ancient people in central Africa, able to predict in 6500 B.C. the seasons having a look on the orientation of the crescent moon near the western horizon.

If you think about what ancient civilizations create for us you can have a clearer idea on how science might be complex and amazingly determined to shed light on our condition. Observation was a fundamental aspect to bear in mind, the glue and the shingle used to select, connect and describe fundamental aspects that can define the pattern able to connect was was done in the past and still remains actual for our current scientific knowledge.  Here is one example of this claim: last weekend I spent some hours in the central area of my city, Rome, despite the pleasant time passed I had what I can associate to a Proust Madeleine, evoked by what I saw. I’ve remembered that one of the first thing I learnt about astronomy and its enterprise was that the several obelisks’ shadows (that you may found in the area of Saint John Basilica or just in front of you from the Pincio promenade near Villa Borghese gardens) was the way to know the time of the day, the year. An invention able to allow survival and a better management of people work, along with parallel local resources, investments, choices and municipality organization.

Our ancestors were looking at the motions of brightest object in the dark in front of us, such as the stars, planets, the Sun and the moon trying to understand where these objects were and what were they made of. Science was democratic even at that time, as different enthusiasts (that in the meanwhile were members of diverse cultures) and newbies astronomers dedicated all the resources, knowledge and time they had to try to make sense of what their desire aimed to.

Phenomena were observed, and some effort was dedicated to try to make sense of them, without professional resources, both instrumental (such as telescopes) than academic ones, with an unbearable confidence able to overcome the lack of advanced mathematical underpinnings.

Their strategy was straightforward: turn up personal curiosity and eyes to the sky…

That is the secret for success on the long term. Be patient and pay attention to Nature regularities and possible changes registered over the long term. Now, if your possible claim is: “hey, this is not a pure scientific way to conduct research and take note of data!” I am completely agreeing with you. It wasn’t. Despite that, it becomes extremely efficient to came up with the logical procedures and innovations (just think about what was achieved by the ancient Greeks about 2500 years ago) with the ideas of mathematics and philosophers such as Pythagoras and Aristotle able to explain the nature of multiple phenomena considered. In fact, it was such a breaking revolution that today the general view of astronomy and its history still depends on the same toolkit.

After the telescope was invented in the 17th century it was the turn of the Copernican revolutions to become one of the most profound change in the history of ideas along the timeline of humanity. We realized that our central position, that we though absolute and the pinnacle of creation, was subordinate, among several selfish rocky bodies of the Solar system, to the beautiful star we seek since we wake up early in the morning to enhance our meteoropathic mood. Then, just to clear up again our liquid condition we understood that the Sun was just one of the stars which formed the Milky Way Galaxy.

 

Howtinyweare.jpg
This picture shows our cosmic address at a glance. We see our planetary system around the Sun, our stellar neighborhood in our galaxy, our galaxy in the local group of galaxies, and our group in the entire universe. Credit to the American Museum of Natural History.

 

It was a strategic shift, which continue to be actual today when international scientists, especially physicists, talk about the possibility of multiple Universe to study and refer to. The careful demonstration that the biology of our planet – the sensational life on Earth – is not unique, as there are others living forms that require only some technical sensitivity and advanced practices to be properly framed, understood and collected is an immense discovery that regard the “aquarium” of possible planets where some sort of life is possible. This is just of the many reasons why we look to or expect to be close to new, cool, amazing, astonishing discoveries.

This is what kill our current natural frustration when data sets do not fit, and we spent lots of time on the analysis of problems, handling delays or trying to combine logic with the theories we know to explain diverse sets of data people propose us to enhance our research.

Perhaps what give us peace is that science starts with evidence, evidence of the natural world and physical or regular, beautiful laws that can explain the behavior in the natural world.

In astronomy the huge evidence we have is remote and travel to us in the form of electromagnetic radiation. It is not we’re in a close, controlled, well-known lab science, so the selected, secured characteristics variables that set-up the experiment cannot be controlled.

The information we gather from the space is extremely powerful, diverse, and has allowed to establish advanced interpretations of situations that are extraordinary, such as the event horizon of a black hole; the atmosphere of a distant Earth-like planet 100 light years from the Earth, or the earliest phases of the expanding Universe when temperatures were extremely high. Several point we must clear are still on the debate.

To overcome uncertainty multiple measurements are constantly needed, as all of us know that gather more relevant data grants a more reliable measure of uncertainty. This is only one of the leitmotivs why great scientists are optimists, they are focused on this mood. They do not know in advance what will happen when they invest resources and time to a huge project that could become a flashlight or an unpleasant hole in the water, maybe passing through a combination of both. These group of geeks is moved by the certainty that the scientific enterprise and its “constitution” is still above every possible conflict of interests and private biased judgement.

What is important, more than everything, is how the instruments and resources available are used. Frame the progress in our world is something we cannot avoid, nor our enlightenment acquisition of information related to space and its equations.

 

LH



 

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