I’M TOTALLY GEEKING OUT ON YOU TODAY. I’m just going to ramble on about something I’m really interested in, so you’ve been forewarned. BUT, there is a point to all of this, so if you want to skip my rambles and scroll down to the bottom feel free!
Bet you didn’t know…That I’m fascinated by space. Yes, SPACE. You know, the universe: planets, stars, black holes, nebula, etc. This makes me a big dweeb, I know
The first first class I ever attended in college at Wisconsin was Astronomy. A lot of times people get astronomy confused with astrology (the study of movements of stars and celestial bodies, interpreted as having an influence on human….I’m a Scorpio, btw ;-)). Astronomy is a science that attempts to understand matter in outer space and the evolution of celestial bodies (the big bang/the birth and death of stars and galaxies). Astrophysics is another element that deals with the physics of the universe, specifically gravity, space-time, and Einstein’s theories of relativity. If we want to get even more specific, Particle Physics–the study of the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter, such as the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson–is yet another branch of Astronomy. Turns out, I am intrigued by them all.
Why am I writing about all of this?? Well, I think I’ve always had an inquiring mind. I get hooked on learning everything I can about one subject and then as my interests evolve I get hooked on something new. I think it’s a major reason why I found myself in education, both as a teacher (high school and now college) as well as a student (I love being in school and studying education). That whole life-long learning thing. Except for me, it’s not like I have to force myself. I actually get a lot of pleasure from reading my nerdy space blogs and Scientific American articles, even though they are completely unrelated to what I do professionally.
Here’s my point with all of this: I actually think it’s important for us to become intrigued by something other than what we do for a living. And that doesn’t include becoming intrigued by your inner monologue (that, my friends, is called rumination and I have some experience with it. It leads to major anxiety and low self-esteem). It’s healthy to be interested in something just for fun, but also something that is educative. It’s how we grow. Or that’s what I believe anyways.
Running is one such topic that I am intrigued by. It’s the main reason why I got involved in the blog world. Although I’m still intrigued by all things running and training, I’ve found that that’s not enough. There was still a void, a yearning to learn something. And space just made sense for me…
…it made sense because I am absolutely fascinated by outer space. Not so much our own solar system, although Curiosity’s findings on Mars are quite interesting, but rather, other more complicated issues:
1. Our search for habitable planets in galaxies far, far away (you can check out NASA’s Kepler telescope for more on that). We know that it is almost certain statistically that there is life out in the universe. Let me blow your mind here for a minute: There are hundreds of billions of galaxies out in the universe and in each galaxy there are hundreds of billions of stars (this number varies depending on each galaxy, but it has been estimated that our own Milky Way has 200 billion to 400 billion stars). Geez, I can’t even wrap my head around that. I don’t think most humans can (yet). Sure, we can understand it theoretically and mathematically, but can we really wrap our heads around that kind of size and space (don’t even get me started on distances and light years). So there are so so many opportunities and stars with planets that could provide the key organic compounds that allow for and facilitate the evolution of life. But that number is cut down drastically when we think about what planets need to be habitable to life. Most basically, they need water and warmth. For both of those things, Earth-like or terrestrial rocky planets, as opposed to Gas Giants, can’t be too close or too far from their star or sun. Scientists call this the Habitable, or “Goldilocks” Zone. Too close to the sun and it’s too hot (think Mercury in our own solar system), too far and it’s too cold for life.
Ok, so our Kepler telescope is on the lookout for planets in the Goldilocks Zone. But it gets even more complicated than that. Scientists don’t know exactly how life even begins yet but they have a good idea that it involves organic compounds. Many of these compounds were brought to Earth when it was bombarded by meteorites at a very young age. So we assume that planets need to have organic compounds “deposited”. But here’s the kicker: eventually, this bombardment has to stop so that life has a chance to evolve. If Earth was continually bombarded then all life would go extinct and not get a chance to evolve (think the dinosaurs). Luckily for us on Earth, Jupiter–yes, you know that huge gas planet in our solar system–helps keep us somewhat safe. It is so massive that its gravitational pull helps protect Earth. Comets can enter the solar system and Jupiter’s gravity slings most of these fast-moving ice balls out of the solar system before they can get close to Earth. Sometimes Jupiter’s gravity also nudges asteroids from the asteroid belt in our solar system toward us, but that’s another story.
So–I’m sure no one has continued to read this, because like I said above I was going to just geek out today–this all means that the chances of there being a habitable planet in the Goldilocks Zone, with a Giant planetary body nearby that helps to “protect” it are drastically reduced. This is probably why with all our searching and technology, we haven’t found any signs of life in the universe. It’s most definitely out there, but it’s probably not intelligent life (meaning single cell organisms that haven’t had the chance to evolve).
So on one hand life here on Earth is not all that unique (so sorry if this hurts!) BUT on the other…IT IS! Somehow (and if you want to insert your own religious beliefs here that’s fine) we got lucky enough to have all the elements align to allow for life to begin and evolve here.
2. A second issue I’m really intruiged by is our attempt to understand some major paradoxes in the universe. Mainly, how the universe could be expanding (and this expansion is speeding up over time!) despite the fact that there are all of the billions of celestial bodies each with their own gravitational pull that should be preventing this expansion. Scientists talk about something called Dark Energy and Dark Matter (not to be confused with antimatter…are you confused yet?) that could provide an explanation for this.
We don’t know exactly what those are yet, but NASA estimates that 70% of the universe is comprised of Dark Energy and 25% of Dark Matter. So we can’t actually see the majority of the “stuff” in the universe. We can’t seem them, but are pretty sure they are there. We can’t see dark matter, but we can detect it by its effects on normal matter through gravity and X-rays emitted by hot, dark matter. So we know it’s there and it’s probably the answer to the universe expansion paradox, but not exactly what it is. Scientists are working feverishly to figure this out though. One-mile deep down in the mines of South Dakota, scientists are trying to figure this mystery out. So stay tuned, my friends. Hopefully we’ll have some answers within our own lifetime…answers to questions about life, its origins, and the universe. 🙂
These issues only scratch the surface of everything that intrigues me. Space-time, considered as “distance” here on earth, still blows my mind. As do Black Holes (did you know there is one massive one at the center of each galaxy?) and the birth and death of stars.
Ok, ok, ok what is the POINT of all of this????? Now, I’m not asking that you also share my strange fascination with outer space or that you even agree with me (admittedly some of this scientific evidence may conflict with your own religious beliefs), but that you find something to marvel at outside of or unrelated to your daily life. This really helps put things in perspective. So even if you didn’t read through all of my geeky space interests in this post, hopefully you get to this one point.
What is one topic that used to or has always intrigued you?