I spend a lot of time thinking about space. When I think to look up, it’s always there for me. Planets, stars, black holes, supernovae, comets. Maybe it’s because I’m an Aquarius, maybe I’m weird, or maybe I think about whatever the hell I want to think about (all of the above). I do leave the aliens to Russell T. Davies and Harry Reid.
In spite of allllll of the bullshit happening in the world right now, there are some exciting things going on in the world of astronomy (bout to nerd-out, get ready!). We may be doing a hack job of connecting with one another through technology, but the instruments now available to the scientific community are connecting with space, and they’re straight killing it (don’t even get me started on gravitational waves, more on that later). Researchers in Hawaii recently charted our place in the universe; we’re a part of a supercluster of other galaxies with a collective mass greater than 100 million billion suns. This is us, guys, and it has little to do with Milo Ventimiglia (he is special).
That’s where you’ll find our galaxy, that little red dot. Suspended at the end of a branch on a trippy, glowing tree. They call it Laniakea, Hawaiian for “immeasurable heaven”.
You’ve probably heard of or read Carl’s Sagan’s thoughts on the “pale blue dot” (Earth, ya’ll). It’s becoming a part of popular culture a la Van Gogh’s Starry Night. My iPhone case is the pale blue dot (jk, but my birthday’s coming up!).
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
Maybe it’s becoming cliche, but the sentiment behind Carl Sagan’s Earth helped solidify an important relationship in my life a couple of summers ago. I had printed out the shittiest photo of the pale blue dot because I was going to Peru on a spiritual journey involving the hallucinogenic, ayahuasca (more on that later), my printer wasn’t working, and I desperately needed reminding that crazier things were going on in the universe besides me facing death or insanity in the jungle with a broken printer at home.
My brother, Chris, came to visit me in Lima, and in stereotypical sibling fashion, we almost killed each other. We’re not really stereotypical siblings. He’s 7 years older, and we grew up across the country from each other. But one night we went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant, got drunk, and got into the biggest fight of our lives. Before the fight, I happened to show him the photo I brought with me, and we had an amazing discussion about it. How, although it could make us feel insignificant, it also made all of our trying that much more important. The trying to be kinder, to share our art with the world, to love more deeply. The day after our big fight, I found that crappy photo taped to the inside of our front door in our Air B&B. It’s now on my fridge.
Worst print job of all time.
“Just a little reminder that it’s all fine,” he said. Exactly.
I guess I’m as much fascinated by space as I am comforted by it, which isn’t true for everyone. Take one of the most badass women I know, Danielle Nau. She’s a world traveler (catch that b in BERLIN next week, seriously), and she finds comfort in taking photographs of everything going on on this planet. In walking as many miles upon it as possible. Experiencing every kind of food and craziness it has to offer. Me too, I just also think about space all the time. We were driving home from Santa Monica once, and I told her I read that we’re “dead stars looking up at dead stars.” She rolled her eyes. (She’s in Slytherin, I give her a break.)
I’m mostly comforted by space because it gives me something bigger than myself to hold onto. When I was a kid, my mom would put some hot coco in a thermos, throw a blanket in the back of our pickup truck, and head to the nearest dark hill so we could watch meteor showers. Even though she’d been at work all day, and I’d been at school, even though the rent was due, and life was hard, we got to sit and enjoy something mysterious, and a part of us. Dead stars, baby.