Time to see the light, reconnect to the sky

By Lauren Kelly

In the very early morning of Aug. 12, after drinking two cups of coffee to keep from falling asleep, I opened my third-story apartment window as far as I could and sat on the sill to stargaze. Other college students stay up until 2 a.m. because that’s when bars close. I, on the other hand, am an astrophile and stayed up to see a prolific event that takes place each August, the annual Perseid meteor shower, a three-week long occurrence visible in the Northern Hemisphere that peaked with 50-80 meteors per hour on Aug. 12.

However, after a mere 30 minutes of stargazing, I called it quits, sorely disappointed that the light pollution in Chicago made it impossible to see any shooting stars. Instead of meteors,  an orange glow permeated the sky, blocking out any possibility of seeing the show.

The next morning I mentioned my frustrating experience to some friends, but their responses, or lack thereof, were mostly the same. They said they didn’t even know it was happening, and that was the end of the conversation.

Besides a small grumble and a few obligatory blurbs from mainstream media outlets, the Perseid meteor shower went mostly unnoticed, except among small circles of astronomers and amateur stargazers. As seen in the frenzy Halley’s Comet creates every 75 years, the media as a whole are clueless when it comes to important cosmological events,  as they are more concerned with political rhetoric and celebrity news. If celestial events are the main topic of conversation, it is usually surrounding some kind of “doomsday” scenario, most likely a deadly asteroid impact along the lines of Armageddon.

It seems that many of us are losing touch with the natural world surrounding us, both on Earth and in the sky. For the majority of human history, we have depended on knowledge of the world’s natural rhythms for survival.

“The sky is a giant clock,” said physicist and author Michio Kaku in an episode of History Channel’s “The Universe.”

“It allowed the ancients to calculate when to plant and when to harvest. In other words, their very livelihood depended upon their understanding the motion of the sun and the heavens,” Kaku said.

We no longer need to tell time by the movements of the sun and moon for agricultural purposes, but our disconnect from nature still has consequences. Our apathy toward the cosmos may directly mirror our disregard for the environment.

We allow for the environment’s destruction by treating it as our power source instead of our home. It has become a nuisance that needs to be conquered rather than an awesome force to live with in harmony.  We are responsible for our attitudes toward the natural world and how we interact with it.

The lack of interest from the general public in matters of planetary importance is very telling of what we value as a society. We have developed a cultural indifference to the universe and rarely connect on a personal level with the cosmos.

“It is normal today to consider people who are more concerned with cosmic reality than with making money to be out of touch and unrealistic,” said Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams in their book The View from the Center of the Universe.

It is ironic that most people think those who question the nature of the universe are “out of touch and unrealistic” just because they are concerned with a higher reality than the stock market. Really, it’s the other way around-they are in touch with something much bigger than the speck of our existence here on the tiny planet Earth.

An inquiry of cosmological theory should not just be left to an elite group of astrophysicists because it is one of the deepest subjects a human being can ponder. This may be a bit more difficult for city-dwellers, but is nonetheless important. It all starts by looking at the sky-and being able to see it.