We Are Star Stuff

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via https://www.passiton.com/inspirational-quotes/6104-the-molecules-of-your-body-are-the-same

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” said Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and director of the effort to capture the image, during a Wednesday news conference in Washington, D.C. The image, of a lopsided ring of light surrounding a dark circle deep in the heart of a galaxy known as Messier 87, some 55 million light-years away from Earth, resembled the Eye of Sauron, a reminder yet again of the implacable power of nature. It is a smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/science/black-hole-picture.html

The New York Times reported on the first image ever revealed of a massive black hole at the far reaches of the galaxy Messier 87 this week.  Titled Darkness Visible, Finally: Astronomers Capture First Ever Image of a Black Hole, the article, by Dennis Overbye, was written with language that at times approached poetry and science fiction, with overtones of awe and wonder. Overbye used descriptors like monster, phrases such as portal into eternity, and described the image as the place where “according to Einstein’s theory, matter, space and time come to an end and vanish like a dream.”

The results of years of work by astronomers working in collaboration on several continents, Wednesday’s news was announced at six locations on Earth simultaneously. Overbye wrote, “When the image was put up on the screen in Washington, cheers and gasps, followed by applause, broke out in the room and throughout a universe of astrofans following the live-streamed event.”

It has taken a century of scientific investigation to prove that Einstein’s theory of relativity, from which his theory of black holes arose, is indeed true and no longer simply a theory. In the NYTimes article, Overbye quotes Priyamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale, who said “Einstein must be delighted. His theory has just been stress-tested under conditions of extreme gravity, and looks to have held up.”  And astrophysicist Kip Thorne wrote in an email, “It is wonderful to see the nearly circular shadow of the black hole. There can be no doubt this really is a black hole at the center of M87, with no signs of deviations from general relativity.”

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https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/science/black-hole-picture.html

It’s fascinating to read how the team of roughly 200 astronomers put together the data, collected from eight radio observatories on six mountains and four continents. The data was taken during a period of ten days in April of 2017, and took the next two years to compile it into the stunning images revealed to the world this week. Here is a link to that article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/04/10/science/event-horizon-black-hole-images.html

It is not easy to describe in words the elation that many of us feel at reading this week’s news, and seeing the black hole images for the first time in history. But a feeling of vindication is part of the larger and more complex web of feelings surrounding the evidence. In a world fraught with opinions passing as truth, outright lies and human egotism run amok, it is such a breath of fresh air to see, with human eyes, an image of a cosmic reality so vast that it is impossible to comprehend. The black hole that lies in the heart of galaxy Messier 87 is nearly seven billion times the mass of our own sun. This is a moment when even scientists will turn to poetry and prophetic words from long ago, as we attempt to grasp the incomprehensible as it is presented to us. In so many ways, for human beings, seeing is believing. This week, we are finally able to see a black hole, a cosmic force incomprehensibly huge.

I looked up quotes by Dr. Carl Sagan, who was a master of writing about science and humanity with eloquence and clarity. Here are some of his thoughts on the relationship between humans and the cosmos, taken from his seminal book, Cosmos, first published in 1980. With gratitude to Dr. Sagan, I offer them to you, dear readers.

“The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”

“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.”

“The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we’ve learned most of what we know. Recently, we’ve waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos, via https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3237312-cosmos

Greta’s pure audacity

She is a phenomenon, utterly fearless.

She takes no prisoners, calling out the glitterati, high profile political and corporate leaders. To Greta, it matters not whether a person is powerful, rich or famous, she pays no deference. Her mission is completely clear.

Greta has the gift of absolute clarity, and articulates our situation with razor sharp language. At a recent German entertainment award ceremony in Berlin, she used her words to lambast celebrities for their excessive lifestyles, criticizing their excesses, such as jetting around the world to enjoy exotic vacations and yoga retreats, without considering the environmental costs of air travel. For a taste of her speech, check out her Twitter feed below.

https://twitter.com/GretaThunberg

There are few news stories which give me joy these days. But the speeches Greta continue to give before large and powerful audiences bring me unreasonable joy. And I am far from alone in feeling jubilant. Here are a few replies on Facebook from people who watched Greta’s speech at the Goldene Kamera awards:

greta_goldenkamera_fb-replies

The irony, as Greta so pointedly states in her speech, is that she was invited to the entertainment award ceremony to receive a climate prize, and once she’s called out all the stars in the audience (reminding them of their huge influence in the world, that billions of people see them as gods), she tells them all that, basically, we need you to help us get our message to the political leaders, since you have the influence and fame that we do not. Fortunately, that’s quickly changing as Greta is becoming a unique kind of celebrity in her own right. She doesn’t need bling-bling, makeup or fancy clothes to be a star, because she has a fascinating kind of egoless charisma that is impossible to ignore.

The jewel and money-dripping crowd at the Goldene Kamera awards seemed, from the looks on their faces, more than a little uncomfortable at Greta’s speech and admonitions targeted at them. I know I am not alone in feeling glad she made them squirm a bit to hear the truth. The entertainment industry spends obscene amounts of money and fossil fuels to pump out entertainment to the masses, while mostly turning their backs on the issue of global warming. From Davos to Brussels to Berlin and beyond, Greta Thunberg is calling out abuses by the world’s power elite. It is JOYFUL to see her activism taking hold in people’s imaginations so quickly, to watch as tens of thousands of youth, teachers, activists and ordinary folk join her movement for Climate Strikes. I encourage everyone reading this blog to follow Greta on Twitter and Facebook, and in the news as she continues to inspire, scold, and speak Truth to power. Go Greta!!

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To click on the links, go to @GretaThunberg on Twitter

The science is solid, but where is global ambition?

WMO climate report 2018 cover
State of the Global Climate report

With all the drama over the Mueller Report and Brexit in the news right now, it isn’t difficult to put aside the work that tens of thousands of dedicated people continue to do towards solving Earth’s climate crisis. And it clearly IS a crisis now.

This week there was a High-level meeting on Climate and Sustainable Development for All, hosted by the UN in New York. Fresh from the two-day long meeting, Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres, Maria Fernanda Espinoza, President of the current UN General Assembly, and WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas held a briefing for the media. Taalas gave a presentation of the latest report on Climate for 2018, followed by statements by Fernanda Espinosa and Gutteres. (https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1035681)

Ms. Fernanda Espinosa urged everyone listening towards action. She stated,

“We need to connect political times to the times of Nature. We need to act, and to act now. The numbers and data are extremely worrisome…We are capable, we have the science, we have the knowledge, we have the tools in hand to push back on global warming,”

Secretary-General Guterres was equally emphatic in his statement to the press. Concerning the upcoming Global Climate Summit to be held in New York in September, he said,

“It is important that we tackle climate change with much greater ambition. I’m telling leaders, Don’t come with a speech, come with a plan.”

“New technologies are already delivering energy at a lower cost than the fossil fuel-driven economy. Solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest sources of new power in virtually all measured economies. This means ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and high-emitting, unsustainable agriculture, and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate-smart practices.”

Of course, none of the stern warnings and emphatic urgings of these high-level diplomats and scientists are new to anyone who seriously cares about the state of our planet. We have been hearing similar warnings and dire reports of climate warming and its effects for the better part of the past decade. It’s feeling more and more like the boiling frog cartoon, made infamous by Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth film in 2006—where the frog is sitting in a bathtub that’s slowly filling with boiling water, as it is boiling to death without really noticing. Except that some of us are finally noticing.

The signs of collapse are everywhere, all around us now.  Yet we continue to sit in the boiling tub, apparently unaware that all we need do is to GET OUT OF THE TUB and turn off the hot water!!   Humans are a strange bunch. One look at the stories abounding in the New York Times or The Guardian, especially in the Culture and Arts sections, show where people’s minds, hearts and souls are focused in these times. And it’s not pretty. People are telling stories and creating theatre, music and art exhibits about seriously frightening, dark, and horrific stuff. The stuff of one’s worst nightmares. And people are paying good money to view, listen to, or otherwise experience them. This is happening in major urban centers throughout the planet, if the artists have the freedom to express what’s inside them without censorship, which is another matter for another blog post.

Living in the world at this point in human history is, in a word, exhausting. The sheer amount and degree of human suffering across our globe is truly beyond comprehension. From the largest, sweeping issues, such as those the UN leaders are working so diligently to somehow manage, to the smallest events that an individual experiences in the course of a day on Earth, there is anguish everywhere.

And yet, the chaos and intense suffering is not the whole story. Simultaneously, there are also incredible moments of courage, daring, skill, intelligence, astounding beauty and grace occurring all across the world. The best of times, the worst of times, to borrow from Dickens.  We’ve got to hold onto HOPE. Moments of grace are such a blessing in the middle of all the sorrow. Here’s a song by Michael Franti and his band, that pretty much sums it all up for me right about now. I offer it as a small balm for those of you who feel similarly.