Friday, March 15, 2013

Starry, Starry Night

the View from the Podium

Starry, Starry Night

Today's View from the Podium turns its gaze heavenward and contemplates the stars, the planets, comets, that bird about to smack into my windshield, and other random bits of Universe that course through our fair skies here on planet Earth.  In case you haven't heard, astronomers have discovered yet another exo-planet, that is, a planet revolving around a star not our sun.  So before those brainy little telescope-twerps discover a superior race of aliens who invade the Earth and turn it into a tacky rest area on some intergalactic freeway, I feel compelled to document for what could be the last time, just how we figured out there was lots of Universe out there, and not so much Earth as we had originally thought.

I totally hope those blue dudes from "Avatar" live here!
Back to the beginning: in the beginning, there was a formless void.  The universe was the size of a Tylenol Cold Capsule and rode on the back of Jebby, the Cosmic Anteater of Creation...  ok, not THAT far back.  As a species, we had lots of time during our stint as hunter-gatherers to lounge around the remains of the woolly mammoth barbecue and stare up at the night sky.  It wasn't long before someone started playing "connect-the-dots" with the bright stars, and the constellations were born (hey, this was before Must-See-TV, so constellation-making was high entertainment!).  Then, some sharp-knife-in-the-drawer guy or gal (it probably wasn't a Neanderthal) noticed that some stars wandered all around the sky, sometimes wandering right through entire constellations and spoiling the picture.  The Greeks called these wanderers "planets," which is Greek for "wanderer."  The Greeks were very sensible back then.

This is the best position for dudes because we don't have vaginas
Pretty soon, the Greeks were making up all kinds of stories about these planets.  They figured that because the planets could basically go wherever the hell they wanted, they must be gods and goddesses, and boy, what mischief they got up to!  I'd tell you the one about how Zeus turned himself into a swan so he could bang the lovely Leda on the down-low (his wife just didn't approve of him banging mortal-trailer-park-trash), but that would ruin the plot of Rachel Roxxx's next film for you (yes, some of those movies do have plots).  The Romans borrowed Greece's gods, goddesses, and the entire country of Greece from the Greeks (they weren't using it at the time), but gave the planets Roman names, like Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Mercury.

They didn't name Uranus Uranus because they never found
Uranus.  The Greeks did.  See previous picture.
Here's where the Catholic Church stepped in and confused things a teensey bit. They figured that because God created the Earth, and Mankind, God's best creation (yes, even better than Uranus) lived on Earth, then it followed that the Earth must be the center of the Universe and that everything revolves around it.  And it makes observational and intuitive sense.  The Earth is pretty solid and doesn't move (except for the occasional earthquake.  And when you're drunk).  AND, if you look at the sun, moon, stars and planets, they all seem to be moving in relation to the Earth, where you and I are standing and, no matter what Carole King sings, just is NOT moving under our feet.

I was drunk when I wrote that song
The only problem with the Catholic Church's view of the cosmos is that it is TOTALLY  MADE-UP  and is TOTALLY  WRONG (surprised?), or so the savvy Polish mathematician, Copernicus suggested in his book, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (translation: The Catholic Church Made All this Shit Up!), which placed the sun --not planet Earth --at the center of the Universe.  Which isn't exactly right either, but you've got to start somewhere.  Copernicus knew he'd piss-off the Church with his book, so he dedicated it to the then-current Pope and had the thing published after he, Copernicus, died, so the Church couldn't hassle him about it.  Just because he was Polish didn't mean he wasn't wicked-smart.
Has anybody seen my pants?

You see, Copernicus thought the sun was the center of the  entire universe, not just the solar system.  AND he thought that the planets revolved around the sun in perfect circles (they don't).  AND he thought that kissing-up to the Pope in his book's dedication would keep it off of the list of books the Church wanted to burn and execute anyone who ever read it (it didn't).

Soooo, a Reformation of sorts was needed.  Martin Luther (no relation to Martin Luther King jr --that would be just silly!) accomplished the religious part, and Johannes Kepler and his pal, Tycho Brahe accomplished the astronomical part.  Kepler was a gifted mathematician and former teacher who formulated the Three Laws of Planetary Motion.  Brahe was an off-da-hook party-animal who had a gold prosthetic nose, had a pet stag, kept a dwarf named Jepp in his court as its official tiny-guy, and had the most accurate astronomical observations in the whole world before astronomers started using telescopes to view the heavens.  Their partnership fixed the planetary orbit shapes mistake (an ellipse  with the sun at one end of the focus).  But still, the sun remained at the center of the Universe.

That's just dumb.  I'm the center of the Universe, you bea-atch-ez.
Humanity had to wait for the creation of the United States of America and the birth of Edwin Hubble to finally be able to have a correct idea of the true size of the Universe and the position of the sun-planets system.  Hubble (the astronomer, not the character who played opposite Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were) trained his big-ass telescope on these so-called spiral nebulae, figured out that they were way-more huge and wicked-further away than previously thought, and then called them "Galaxies."  He then turned said big-ass telescope on our own Milky Way and discovered that --wait for it --that IT was also a Galaxy, had always been a Galaxy, and had been hiding right in front of us throughout all of human history.  When he did the math, he figured out that the solar system was itself revolving around some central point in the middle of the Milky Way.  Way to go, Edwin Hubble!
My telescope is bigger than yours.
And yes, size does matter.

Since Hubble made his breakthrough, more fascinating details have emerged: that the galaxies are flying away from each other at ever increasing speeds; that there's something called "dark matter" that is invisible but really powerful; that there are Black Holes, Pulsars, Quasars and Neutron Stars; that the Universe itself used to be squeezed into a wicked-hot, wicked-dense state called a "Singularity" (and not riding on the back of Jebby, the Cosmic Anteater, as previously posited in this blog), and that an event called either the Big Bang, Great Bang, Awesome Gang-Bang, or other pithy turn of phrase created everything in the Universe almost instantaneously.  Everything.  Even time, space, matter, anti-matter, subatomic particles, quarks, strings, and maybe even what the Catholic Church called Heaven, Hell and God.  The Church agrees with a lot of this stuff these days, except for the God-stuff.  For some reason, they cling to their ignorant, Medieval notions that they, and they alone, get to tell you stuff about God.  I wonder what God thinks about that attitude?

Smite them!  Better yet, just let them keep smiting themselves.
In a way, I kind of liked the Church's view of everything.  I mean, everything seems so big now and I feel so tiny.  Then again, being the center of the Universe was a lot of pressure --I mean, what if we humans screwed up and, I don't know, didn't live according to God's commandments.  What if we didn't really love our neighbors as we love ourselves (and not in a creepy sexual way, you weirdos!)  What might the world look like if that were the case?
Oh!  Good point!

No comments:

Post a Comment