I was supposed to drop the class; take something more practical or relevant. I didn't buy the book when I got all the others because it wasn't necessary. I sat in the class the first day with every intention of it being my last.
In the first 10 minutes, I was hooked. The professor fed me questions and lines about the world and science that diminished any horizon, because it was, in fact, the universe. He told us the class wasn't going to be about memorizing star charts, planetary facts, or the distance between the sun and the moon. It was going to be about thinking. It was about thinking big, as big as the universe would allow. He asked us if we knew what phase the moon was in, if mercury was in view this time of year, or if the constellation Libra was overhead last night. No one knew these answers, and, since it was the first day of class, it was impossible to think that any of us would have found this information on our own without it being taught or told to us.
But he has taught us and told us, many things in fact. Things that make English seem insignificant. Which is saying a lot, because I do love English dearly.
Since that first day, I have been learning. I've been learning about the universe, yes, but also about myself. I now know that if the Sun stopped burning we would have about eight minutes to live. I have also thought some about what I would do with those eight minutes to make them 'count'.
Pluto actually is on a tilted plane compared to the other planets; did you know that? That blew my mind a little bit. It shattered the false reality I have built around myself. I learned about my stubbornness and willingness to believe. I think about the model of the solar system that sat on my second grade science teacher's desk and I laugh. If only life were really that simple, really that small, on a scale that easy.
The Sun doesn't rise exactly East all the time- it depends on the season. This bit of information made me a little angry that my directional skills, according to the rising and setting of the Sun, might be a little off. I paused to think about the fact that the Sun is really only gases, just moving around, reacting. It burns because everything inside of it moves. Sometimes I can relate.
We learn about white dwarfs. They are the end of the star's life. They contain as much mass as the Sun in as much space as the Earth. Talk about dense. I think about some of the boys I have dated.
We learn about supernovae, explosions of stars, and the effects of them on the universe. Basically, a huge ball of hydrogen gas is heated and (leaving out some of the details of complexity) burns away in nuclear fusion reactions. Hydrogen turns into Helium and Helium turns into Carbon, then it goes to Oxygen, Iron. Eventually, everything expands or collapses and the heat makes the other elements of the periodic table.. There ceases to be a star anymore and it all goes back to dust. That star dust becomes everything in the universe.
From the ashes of a star form other stars, the planets, their moons. As we are proof, life also forms from that star’s remains. You and I are made of star dust. The same brightly burning dots in the sky make up our lungs and stomachs and hearts. We come from the same source, the same God of the universe. We can look up into the night sky and see pieces of who we are. We can see each other-the little quirks, the annoying tendencies, our hair, laughter. Romeo wasn’t too far off when he told Juliet she was like the sun.
We only see one side of the moon; the other side never faces us. I think about some of the friends I used to have and how our lives mirror the universe sometimes.
In this class, we zoom out. We look at the stars and galaxies and it is overwhelming to think about. I am so small. I leave that class feeling so humble and, some days, insignificant. Not in a bad way though; it can be a good thing to feel human. He talks about the "conspiracy" of the universe, how all these formulas match up perfectly. The numbers are so perfectly crafted and manipulated. The orbital period of a planet squared divided by the distance from the Sun cubed is equal to one over the total mass. What kind of possibility is that?
We learn about the formation of the Solar System and of Earth. We talk about how there is water here and it doesn't make any sense. The boiling point of water is too low, it doesn't make sense. There is no scientific explanation. He tells us, "Statistically, we shouldn't be here." I agree. I sit in this class and I wonder about the magesty of the heavens and I can't begin to imagine how people don't believe in God.
He tells us about the Curve of Binding Energy and Nuclear reactions and asks us to push ourselves to understand. Once he thinks we do, he throws out there the fact that if you just push the reaction a little further, fire neutrons, use up the waste, you can create even more energy. He makes a quip, telling all the environmental enthusiasts to wake up and think about that for a second. He grins, tells us to "Go change the world," and turns his back to us to write something on the board. I wonder how many of us will do what he says: change the world. I hope I will be one of the people who does.