Science in our country is usually pursued as a road to high-income profession such as doctors, engineers, etc. There is very little love for science as a subject of curiosity and amazement in our education system. Students learn science as dry facts without causing any change to their souls and so many fail to achieve science-mentality and remain as prejudiced as anyone around in society throughout their lives. Science as a subject of learning has utterly failed in our country, but extremely succeeded as a subject of business in some specialized professions. Science has thus become narrow and devoid of its wider impact on culture and society.
A very interesting aspect of science is revealing deep secrets of the universe. Knowledge about space makes humans humble, curious, broadminded, knowledge-thirsty, objective and moral. And the topic is not for only those who study science as academic subject. Minimum science knowledge is a must for all. And space science can be an eye-opening and morality boosting joyful experience for everyone. Space like human body should not be a subject for only specialists, it is for all. Knowledge about space can be a change-maker for human spirit, culture and society.
For example, let us think of how unimaginably big the universe is and what an amazing thing it is that we humans living on a small planet at a corner of the universe have been able to measure its size and age. This universe was born 13.8 billion years ago through Big Bang. It is on continuous rapid expansion. It is thought to be 93 billion light years in diameter, a light year is the distance light travels (at the speed of 186,000 miles per second) in a year. The diameter is unimaginably big.
We live on Earth as part of the solar family. Our star is 9,30,00,000 miles away from us. It takes 8 minutes for the light to reach us across this vast distance from the sun. Beyond our family, our nearest star is Proxima Centauri 4.24 light years away, which means light takes 4.24 years to reach us from there. We live in the Milky Way galaxy which contains 100 to 400 billion stars with a diameter of 1,00,000 light years meaning that light will take 1,00,000 years to move from one end of it to the other. And there are at least 100 billion galaxies like ours in the universe. (Ian Crofton and Jeremy Black, The Little Book of Big History, Michael O'Mara Books Ltd, London, 2016)
From the distances between two places measured by the speed of light, it is easy, yet unbelievable and amazing to know that whatever we see in the heaven is in the past. The sun we see in the sky is always 8 minutes old. We will never be able to understand anything and instead keep seeing it for 8 minutes if it disappears just now. We will only be able to understand the change 8 minutes later. The other stars we see are not only farther away also farther back in the past.
In the book Pale Blue Dot (Ballantine Books, New York, 1994), American cosmologist Carl Sagan (1934-1996) notes how spaceflight can give one a transnational vision proving before one's eyes of the futility of all rivalries and hatred among humankind. Sagan wrote, "You spend even a little time contemplating the Earth from orbit and the most deeply engrained nationalism begins to erode. They seem the squabbles of mites on a plum."
When one thinks of life on this earth comparing with perspective of the birth of the universe and that of the solar system afterwards, one must be amazed to find our lives much, much shorter than the blink of an eye. Yet, during this less than a blink of the universe, we commit so many crimes, harms so many lives, deceive so many people, murder, torture, exploit, make others cry, deprive others of the happiness they rightfully deserve, and so many uncountable number of bad things we do to people, animals and the environment. Of course, we also love, empathize, help, cooperate, save and do many other good things in the short span of life. But the dominant picture of human life on earth is deprivation, exploitation, killing, extending inequality, perpetuating poverty and all sorts of other injustices committed by some of us against others among us.
Even some primary knowledge of the cosmos makes one understand the sheer stupidity in our narrow, shortsighted and ludicrously low behavior with our fellow beings. The next step of the human evolution is to pull us above this lowliness and prove us deserving to have this earth, a mere pale blue dot in the vastness of pure black space. Knowledge about space makes humans humble, caring, loving, peaceful and eager to make life meaningful in the void of nothingness.
Let knowledge of the heaven be part and parcel of our everyday life. But first let's start at the school, if not to make our children cosmologists, at least to make them good, ethical, moral and compassionate human beings who are not bounded by any prejudices of color, race, gender, ideal, wealth, and so on.
The writer is Editor, Biggan O Sangskriti (a little mag on science and culture)
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