Saturday, October 20, 2012

To Infinity and Beyond (part 1): We are Explorers

“It is the unknown that defines our existence. We are constantly searching, not just for answers to our questions, but for new questions. We are explorers.” –Commander Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 

From NASA: Galaxy NGC 3344
Last weekend some friends and I went to a corn maze. It was a fun fall activity, and we wandered the maze aimlessly, just enjoying being out together. It grew dark as we were in the maze, which added to the fun of each wrong turn. When we finally reached the center, we stopped and took the time to look up.  In the dark field, I was able to see the night sky in a way I hadn’t in a long time. It’s sad that I have to go out of my way to find a place with enough darkness to see the curve of the galaxy. 

When I look up at the stars, I feel powerful in my insignificance. I’m a speck stuck on a rock spinning around a small star in an unimportant corner of the galaxy. Thousands of stars burn in the sky, and I’m overwhelmed by the tiny taste of the vastness of space. But I’m here, I exist, and I’m reacting to the universe, and that makes me feel big, like a valued cog in the wheel of creation.

This summer I got caught up in the Curiosity craze. It was exciting to watch something man-made reach another planet and land so precisely, and in less than 14 minutes, I could see a picture sent from Mars. It is feats like that that make me realize I live in some crazy future where modern technology is almost magical.  We’ve landed objects on Venus, Mars, and our moon. And this fall, Voyager I, in its 35th year of its expected three-year mission, left this solar system. We have reached out, looking for something beyond our everyday experiences. We want to find the unknown and explore the specks of light in the night sky

I won’t pretend that exploration is always pure. Exploration of the world used to mean conquering civilizations and stealing resources. The Space Age is a child of the Cold War. But it has grown up. Americans and Russians now work together on the International Space Station. We search space not to conquer anything, but to know what’s out there. That curiosity, that spark to explore and to better ourselves, is a defining human trait. It shows our belief that there is more to find, to know, to experience.

I believe our human longing to seek knowledge in our physical universe is the same longing that makes us seek understanding of God. We see glimpses of infinity and reach out to grasp it. The universe and God are too big to comprehend, so we study the little pieces that we can, slowing working our way out toward knowledge more complex and more amazing than could ever have been imagined had we stayed on the ground and refused to look up.

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