“The practice of science happens at the border between the known and the unknown. Standing on the shoulders of giants, we peer into the darkness with eyes opened not in fear but in wonder.”
― Brian Cox, Wonders of the Universe
When I was a kid, as my friends screamed or wished at meteor showers, it was hard for me not to think that these beautiful celestial objects that crossed the sky were ultimately nothing more than some sharp rocks rubbing against the atmosphere. If large enough, this meteor could destroy most of the life on Earth – a 10 km one did that once. From the time a North American Triceratops looked up and saw it to the time it hit the ground, only about 5 minutes passed. I describe this as a “disillusionment” of the beauty of astronomy.
In fact, astronomy has always been a popular subject, if leaving aside its complex base of physics and mathematics. In popular science books, asteroids and stars are often the source of aspiration: humans seem to have an innate fascination with the glittering, dark background of diamonds. This was also the beginning of my interest in astronomy: the twinkling, distant, hot stars that seem to have an endless attraction to people. And scientists seem to have learned a lot about these stars. They pinned STARS to the drawing board and deconstructed it inch by inch with mathematics and physics until it was no longer special and mysterious on a microscopic level. I’m like a silly boy chasing his girlfriend, desperately trying to learn more from the people who know her. I wanted so badly to deconstruct the secrets of astronomy that had been haunting me for over a decade that I chose to apply to SSP.
And SSP does not fail me. Together with all my CUB partners, I embarked on a cosmic adventure. With the lively and interesting narratives of our professors, we gradually understood our night sky. We learned a lot of concepts, wrote a lot of psets, and used a lot of formulas to program. I could feel that I was getting closer to the night sky.
But like all naive children who think highly of themselves, I fell into a certain fear: can beauty be deconstructed? If I deconstruct the stars, like a meteor shower, into parts that are no longer beautiful (like rocks), will I still be attracted to them? Is it the unknown itself that attracts me?
For example, asteroid, if you have ever been lucky enough to look into the sky with a telescope and it happens to be clear, then you may have seen a sky full of stars, or the remnants of Venus. That’s how astronomy first attracted me. But now every asteroid seems to have changed to a direction and a distance with six orbital constants. I am no longer sure of their calling to me, and I fear that I have gained their location and knowledge, but killed the beauty in my heart.
To find out, I looked up again yesterday at the night sky — Amazingly, the breathlessness took over me again. The anachronistic knowledge switch in my brain just turned off, and the swaying light that seemed to come from a magical world made all photometry or orbit elements forgotten, leaving only the pure admiration. I think that feeling can only be described as fascination. I stood still and stared up at the dome in awe. My mother later said I was “possessed”.
But just same as the meteor shower, after a while, the knowledge would return to my brain. But fortunately, this time I found that it did not detract from the beauty of the asteroid at all, but rather made me more aware of what a stunning sight I was seeing: in an almost endless journey through the universe, these tiny masses were caught in a new orbit by one of the billions of stars called Sun. And now, these asteroids have met us across half of the universe with life. In terms of probability, I believe the odds of us meeting these planets are far less than the statistical 5% – but it just happens.
This is exactly the best lesson SSP taught me: knowledge and beauty are not in conflict, and even only infinite knowledge can achieve some of the deepest beauty – and obviously I’m still skin deep. A Chinese poet said that 3 levels of life are “a mountain is a mountain, a mountain is not a mountain, and ultimately a mountain is still a mountain. I think that is exactly what is meant.
For my group (Team 7), we were assigned asteroid 2003 UD8. I can hardly imagine the coincidence that led us to find each other among millions of choices: there are 7 billion people in the world and almost infinite asteroids in the universe, yet we connected each other with a telescope. We will find its position, distance, parameters, orbit, but we will also find its beauty and mystery. It doesn’t lose its hazy beauty by being understood, but rather makes me want to know more – just like an attractive girl whose story you never stop wanting more of. We met each other with infinitely close to zero probability. I couldn’t find anything in the universe more romantic than that.
For my group, we were assigned asteroid 2003 UD8. I can hardly imagine the coincidence that led us to find each other among millions of choices: there are 7 billion people in the world and almost infinite asteroids in the universe, yet we are connected by a telescope. We will find her position, her distance, her parameters, and her orbit, but we will also find its beauty and its mystery. It doesn’t lose its hazy beauty by being understood, but rather makes you want to know more – like an attractive girl whose story you never stop wanting more of. We met each other with infinitely close to zero probability. I couldn’t find anything in the universe more romantic than that.
Please say hi to our friends 2003 UD8! This is a greeting from the universe. (What? She is only one pixel? Hey don’t be RUDE to our friend😡)
So, after ten years of that meteor shower, I came to understand that true passion should be able to withstand dissection and deconstruction, and SSP helped me find that. It was not a triumph of reductionism, but a combination of principle and aesthetics – and this is what has sustained my love of astronomy, which grows to a more solid motivation combined with reason. Right now, I know that somewhere out there 2003 UD8 is glowing faintly, and that meteor showers are still synonymous with romance in everyone’s mind. This is the most profound feeling that SSP has given me: things can be rational while romantic.
I sincerely hope that we can carry this cosmic romance to every corner of our future lives.
And of course, don’t forget to pay tribute to our amazing faculty and guest lecturers. They have excelled in the challenges of online teaching. A special Happy Birthday to our wonderful TA, Molly. Thank you so much for your guidance and humor, we could not have come this far without you.
Happy birthday to Molly and Molly.formal! (And thank you Molys)
Today I still agree that life is tough, and it’s hard to get everything right, just like SSP’ 21ers can’t meet each other in person. But, I mean, at least sometimes, we can laugh and spin together with the universe.
Good morning, afternoon, and evening! I’m Tina from a Hong Kong high school. When I don’t have deadlines within 2 hours, I usually read, think, and play Don’t Starve. By the time you read this line, our little friend will have spun 3.5 times – no matter how many times I’ve learned about orbits or rotation, there are parts of the universe that always amaze me.