How To Fall Forever Into The Night Sky | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

How To Fall Forever Into The Night Sky

Play associated audio

It's your neck that's the problem. Your neck is lying to you.

All your life you've had to look up at the stars. You walk along on a summer's evening and they're always there, those stars, those bright mysterious points of light, waiting for you to notice, waiting for you to understand what they are saying about time and space and your own place in it all.

But to see them you have to crane your neck. You have tilt back that big stone of a head to look up. Lets face it, that's uncomfortable. And more to the point you can't really sustain that head-craned-back position for anything more than a few minutes. That's why the only way to really understand the real truth of the stars is to lie down.

First you'll need to find a nice place, somewhere with the darkest skies possible. It's got to be a good place to lie down too, someplace comfortable. A wide-open field is best. Then, once you have settled down in your dark, quiet spot take a long deep breath and face out.

That's right, outwards, not up!

You see "up" is just an illusion. You're living on the surface of massive rock that's been pulling you down with its incessant gravity since the day you were born. It's fooled you into thinking the stars are "up" there, "up" in the sky, high above you. They're not.

Now that you are lying down, you can get to work. Imagine for a moment flattening the Earth into a thick wall. Imagine that this wall is not something below you but ... behind you. You aren't lying down anymore; you simply have your back pressed against something. And now what do you see in front of you?

Stars.

What do you see if you look toward your feet?

Stars.

And if you look to your right or your left or toward the direction the crown of your head is pointed, what's there?

Stars.

Finally, we come to the real kicker. That wall your back is pressed up against, what's behind it?

More stars!

There, now you have it. Now you can feel the real truth, like vertigo, as you fall into the starry multitude. These stars aren't twinkling lights above your head, they are all suns; vast spheres of thermonuclear burning gas. And, as we have just recently come understand, almost all of those suns support their own families of planets. All those stars, all those other worlds — they're everywhere. Now you can finally feel that you are there too, right in their midst.

Time now for the second big gestalt shift, the next change in perspective.

With your eyes aimed forward, focus on just one star. The sun (and its likely planets) that you are staring down lies more than 24 trillion miles away from you (a light year is about six trillion miles and the nearest star is more than four light years away). Now shift your focus and pick out another star, one that is close to the first. They look like neighbors. But that is just another deception. Your second star may be 10, 100 or 1,000 times farther away (or closer) than its neighbor.

All those stars, all of their planets, they aren't pressed onto the surface of a dark upturned bowl; they're arrayed in the three dimensions of cosmic space, like fireflies scattered across a summer field.

There is no up or down and you are not a resident of some city, some state or even some nation. You are not a Democrat or a Republican, a dockworker or a doctor. Right now, right at this very moment, you are a free agent hurtling through the midst of a vast city of stars, an all-encompassing architecture of suns.

So remember, always face outward into the surrounding sky. Because that is your true home.


You can keep up with more of what Adam Frank is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @AdamFrank4

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

After A Ho-Hum Summer, Hollywood Ramps Up For Fall

Until Guardians of the Galaxy came along, this year's box office figures were the worst in years. But critic Bob Mondello says there are bound to be some fall films that get pulses pounding again.
NPR

These 5 Crops Are Still Hand-Harvested, And It's Hard Work

Saffron, vanilla, palm oil, cacao and cottonseed oil are still picked by hand in some parts of the world. Sometimes that manual labor shows up in the price of the food; sometimes it doesn't.
NPR

Guns Boom In 2014 Campaign Ads

Ads with candidates shooting guns are proliferating this year. It can all be traced back to Sen. Joe Manchin's famed 2010 spot "Dead Aim."
NPR

Why Do We Blindly Sign Terms Of Service Agreements?

Audie Cornish talks with University of Chicago Law School professor Omri Ben-Shahar about terms of service agreements for software and websites.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.