The tiny Earth

One of the greatest things about astronomy is that it makes us feel small.

Imagine this: you’re sitting underneath the evening’s glorious dome, mind halfway to Neptune, pondering about the constellations out there, then retreating to the constellations within. Infinity can make any heart skips a beat.

The universe is 13.7 billion light years and the Earth is just a speck of dust; insignificant, easily swept by a meteor swinging our way. We are, in many ways, a cosmic accident, chance and choice conspire in their grandest way to create us, the portal back to the universe. And we happen to live in the most insignificant neighborhood, around an ordinary star, in the outer age arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. Continue reading “The tiny Earth”

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Is it Orion or Waluku?

“I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.” – Wisława Szymborska

In 1856, Sultan Pakubhuwana VII from Java, created an agricultural calendar using the conspicuous hunter figure in the sky, Orion.

In the northern hemisphere, Orion is a broad-shouldered hunter who is ready to take down his prey. Betelgeuse, one of the brightest, matured red star is the hinge in the shoulder; the source of power, and the three equally sparse stars are his belt where Orion keeps his weapon and also, a pocketful of nebulae. Orion is a remarkably noticeable constellation from anywhere in the world throughout the year, hence it’s often the starting point for newbies to browse through the sky.

But in Indonesia, Orion lays down, resting above the lush tropical forest with his back facing the sky. The Javanese didn’t see it as a man ready to hunt, but a farmer’s plow, a traditional tool that finances and supports their livelihood. Now laying and facing down, his body is the body of the plow and his leg is the handle.

Continue reading “Is it Orion or Waluku?”

Space is the Place

“I’d hate to pass through a planet and not leave it better than I found it.” Sun Ra

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere,” said the beloved astronomer and storyteller, Carl Sagan. The 20s-50s period were the glowing years of astronomy. Within a short few decades, Einstein coined the term spacetime, giving us an understanding of the fluid relationship between space and time; Hubble proposed a theory of an expanding universe; and along with that, George Lemeitre hypothesized the origin of the universe with the Big Bang theory.

Yet as our imagination ascended beyond the visible sky, the two biggest political bodies, too, ascended their weapons of war towards entire humanity.

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Carl Sagan’s Romantic Prose to Evening Sky

I always find the Moon to be a poetic piece in the sky. Its origin and reality is quite an anomaly. As a satellite, it’s a giant. When other satellites are only 0.04% the size of its planet, our Moon’s size is a quarter of the Earth’s.

The Moon doesn’t have atmosphere, and one time, it was reverberating as if it’s a hollow rock. Its oddity has tempted some people to assume it’s an alien space ship. But even with all these eccentric characteristics, the Moon gives us a familiar radiance in the sky, a soft gaze that has illuminated millions of humans, from the Homo Erectus to us, for millions of years. It’s the steady boat against the infinite sea of time, and it gives us a tremendous sense of calm. Because, unlike the Earth, the Moon is patiently and generously remain the same for millions of years, giving us a common language to the past and to the future. And isn’t that romantic?

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Writing Up for People

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.” E.B. White

Enter a child’s headspace and you will find a perpetually unfolding space for stories and beauty. Children are driven by wonder and endless curiosities. Yet children’s books rarely capture this spirit. They downsize big ideas—in E.B. White’s words: “writing down to children”—even though kids are the most inquisitive creatures who happily swallow mind-stretching topics and swing from one discipline to another like a natural interdisciplinary student.

Recently, we are seeing a reemergence of children’s stories that, like children themselves, galvanize on little mundane things in life, like mornings, a blue bird, or a city’s soundscape. I call them ‘children’s stories for adults’ for its quality that transcends age and time. Working as modernized and simplified fables, these children’s stories for adults mark the realization that adults, too, are still little children inside. Continue reading “Writing Up for People”

How to Raise Scientists

What’s life without the world within us, a perpetually unfolding space that is the kaleidoscope to our reality? Children, being so free from the constraints of adulthood, roam in and out of this space without care, bringing traces from one world to another. These are the years of soft imaginings; of observing the world like a sponge which takes in all that it can take, without the pretense of an intellectual or the fear of being wrong.

At the same time, we are taught that these meanderings are nothing but child-like tendencies to understand the world. As we step into adulthood, we are transforming our minds to be computation tools to synthesize information, leaving the imaginations behind and forgetting that these kinds of meanderings, too, still remain to be the most fertile space to understand the world.

Scientists too are vivid imaginators. From Carl Sagan to Albert Einstein, the greatest scientists agree on a crucial thing – the role of imaginations to create space for theories and calculations. Carl Sagan lamented the ways parents dismissed children’s quirky questions, while Einstein had understood for a long time that “creativity is intelligence at play.” So what’s a better way to learn about this fluid spectrum of creativity and intelligence than to peek into some of the greatest scientists’ early beginnings; their first steps of fascination towards the worlds of invisible matters.

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When Carl searches for gods

I’m constantly perplexed by the science versus religion debates that seek differences and separations rather than symmetry, which is an attempt that feels more political than for humanity.

To many people, these dramatized scenes are mere entertainments. But to some people, the questioning of gods and religion is really a perpetual existential question. Whether that’s through historical records, the arts, the sciences, to search for god is to ultimately return to the question that nudges our very own meaning and existence. Because even with waves of solid scientific data, these numbers and fact can’t settle many uneasy hearts. Hence; the role of religion, stories, or even just imaginations, which is to reconcile with the unknown.

Continue reading “When Carl searches for gods”