My Turn: Hubble Telescope and the average person

Posted: Thursday, May 28, 2009

Recently, among all the economic and political news, scientists and all humans had great news - the Hubble Space Telescope has been repaired and improved. After centuries of human history, from times when for many, the "Medi-terranean" Sea was the "center of all lands," to the challenging idea of Galileo that the Earth was not the center of the universe, we have come a long way on our path to knowledge and verifiable information.

In just a short time, the photos and information provided by the Hubble have transformed our knowledge of our place in the universe. What we have learned is far beyond the comprehension of most of us. We can use a calculator to determine the meaning of a "light year." That is, light travels at 186,000 miles each second. Just multiply seconds, by minutes, by hours, days and years, and the result is a number with many, many zeros behind it. Yet the Hubble telescope has now given us a picture of a slight bit of light that began its journey billions of light years ago.

What does that mean to us average people, making a living, trying to understand our place in the universe and creation? It means that as in the past, we may have to change our thinking, our conceptions and perhaps our beliefs about the real world. Maybe we are not the center of the universe. We see now that our solar system and our planet is just a speck in a particular galaxy that we call the Milky Way. The Hubble telescope was turned and focused for 10 days on an area in space that was apparently empty; it captured light from millions of galaxies that we had never before knew existed.

There are arguments and debates over evolution versus intelligent design. Perhaps that intelligent design is the process of evolution. We now have to take the evidence and try to understand it, and explain it.

What the Hubble telescope has done has been to let us see what a small part of this immense universe we are. We are all inhabitants of a mere speck in this vast universe. But its message and evidence places a huge responsibility upon us if we are to survive as a species and not disappear as have many other species of living creatures on our planet have. That responsibility is that we have to learn to live together with various beliefs, religions, cultures, languages and traditions. There is no room on this little life boat in space for people insisting that all must be my way or no way. That would be a mutiny among humans, and we will all perish. As our president has pointed out, we must find common ground.

As we have learned and seen from the Hubble telescope, we are not the center of the universe. We are a part of it. We are part of the world around us, the plants, animals and other inhabitants of this planet. We have to protect our environment, the world we live in. We have to be good stewards of the land. We have to learn to respect others even if we differ in language, culture, traditions and even beliefs. Our home is planet Earth.

We need to take the photos from the Hubble telescope and hang them on the walls of our houses and offices to remind ourselves who we are, where we fit in the universe. And then, thank those who have improved and enhanced the Hubble telescope, because in the future, with new insights and information, we may again have to re-think many things and accept the reality.

• Wally Olson is an Auke Bay resident.



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