Astronomy is as important to our lives as politics is

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Tomorrow, May 10, is World Astronomy Day. It is now de rigueur to nominate almost every day of the year to something or the other. Not surprisingly, astronomy is one of them.

Sadly, this day never gets the play in popular, mainstream media as it should. But here’s the thing: astronomy, and its associated fields of science, should be as important to our lives as, say, politics, because they address the very fundamental questions that dog mankind — where did it all begin and where did the universe emanate from?

For all the work that theoretical physicists and astronomers do in addressing these questions and questions about understanding the universe we live in, they get negligible mindspace and media coverage. But for tomorrow, perhaps it is important to remember and celebrate their work.

Of course, for most of us, astronomy is an esoteric science, full of complex mathematical equations, concepts that boggle the mind. Yet, it is about us. Because, astronomy is about exploration; as much about the human mind as about the universe itself. It is about ‘What’s next?’ But most important, it is about, ‘Who are we?’ Nobody put it better than the great scientist Hans Bethe, who, along with Ralph Alpher and George Gamow, formed the famous Alpher-Bethe-Gamow trio of cosmology: “We need science education to produce scientists, but we need it equally to create literacy in the public. Man has a fundamental urge to comprehend the world about him, and science gives today the only world picture which we can consider as valid. It gives an understanding of the inside of the atom and of the whole universe, or the peculiar properties of the chemical substances and of the manner in which genes duplicate in biology.

An educated layman can, of course, not contribute to science, but can enjoy and participate in many scientific discoveries which are constantly made. Such participation was quite common in the 19th century, but has unhappily declined. Literacy in science will enrich a person’s life.”

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