Sermons in the sky

Andrew Wyeth, eat your heart out. When the Hubble telescope was launched in 1989 astronomers hoped to answer countless cosmic puzzles though its million-dollar lens. What nobody expected was that the beauty of the cosmos

Andrew Wyeth, eat your heart out.

When the Hubble telescope was launched in 1989 astronomers hoped to answer countless cosmic puzzles though its million-dollar lens. What nobody expected was that the beauty of the cosmos would transform some scientists spiritually.

These are singlehandedly some of the most breathtaking images any human might set eyes on. For more than 10 years, scientists have been staring up into the night sky with the Hubble telescope and being transformed by the timeless beauty of the cosmos.

Many astronomers who use the Hubble Telescope for first-hand exploration are often overcome by the incredible beauty of these images and driven to spiritual experiences.

“Certainly they move many people into a feeling of reverence for the grandeur of the universe, myself included, and it is quite natural for this to merge with a religious feeling among a significant number of my colleagues,” says Peter Meszaros, head of the astronomy and astrophysics departments at Penn State University.

Fred Walters, a professor at the State University of New York, has been using the Hubble telescope for his own research with the deep-space observation of star nebulae. He shares in Meszaros’ insight.

“It is an awesome feeling. You could even call it a spiritual experience.”

Rising through the ranks of the scientific world often means castrating your spiritual understanding of the universe. However, these images have overcome many scientists and laymen better than any Sermon on the Mount ever could.

Ever since Copernicus published his theory of the Ptolemaic universe, placing the sun in the center of our solar system, religion and science have remained at opposite ends of a cultural spectrum.

Last week scientists at NASA released images that confirm one major prediction about the Big bang, the violent explosive birth of our universe.

The images, which were compiled through a balloon-borne telescope, define the universe when it was only 300,000 years old. Given that our universe is believed to be 13 billion years old, these results are taking us back to literally the beginning of time.

The simple reality that the universe is so old and its creation took only a matter of seconds has always been disturbing to Biblical literalists who argue that everything was created in seven days or, as Genesis paints it, six.

For those of us who don’t think that man was cast into damnation because a snake told a woman to eat an apple, there are remarkable similarities between the religious notions of our universe and the one Hubble has presented for us in startling definition.

Hindus understand the nature our universe as one of constant rebirth at the individual and cosmic levels. For more than 4,000 years, it seems, Hindu prophets have been preaching that the universe is to be extinguished and to be reborn again and again and again…

Surprise! It’s possible they were right.

Leading theories about the nature of the cosmos lend themselves to this understanding; the universe might someday contract again like a balloon deflating only to start all over again. Hence the Big Bang.

Another surprising element is the order of the universe. There is a plan to the stars. Call this plan science, or quantum mechanics, or even cosmic law, but everything seems to follow a special pattern. As the nucleus is to the electron, so the star is to the planet. So goes the relationship between our sun and our galaxy, and perhaps even our galaxy and our universe.

In the Midwest, the response to these images has been far greater. In more remote areas of the United States amateur astronomers are born under each new night’s sky.

Many astronomers have been critical of the public appeal saying largely that laymen’s interest in space is limited to Star Wars and B-rate movies like Independence Day.

Astronomers are indeed biting the hand that feeds them. If these images have an impact and mean something other than science to us as human beings then it is our just dessert.

Ever since we crawled out of the jungle we have desired to explore. We have covered every inch of this Earth to places inhospitable and to others where man does not belong.

There is something innate in man that brings him to discover. Space will be that next discovery and we will surely find it to be exotic, dangerous and beautiful beyond imagination.

This is not the cold, dark, barren universe you learned about in high school. Look up and see a masterpiece. And if you find something spiritually resounding, you’re not alone.

For more information and to see more breathtaking photos of the universe check out

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