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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

The Moon shows us what it is to be human

By Phil Plait
Wylie Overstreet shuts down his telescope after viewing the Moon. Credit: Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh

It's easy to become disconnected from the natural world. Roughly half the world lives in a city, with that number growing every week. We surround ourselves with artificial constructs, and the past becomes slippery; we forget where we came from.

The consequences for astronomy are real. Light pollution erases the sky, and a majority of people in the U.S. can't see the Milky Way in their own sky; for many looking up means seeing a handful of stars instead of the magnificent spangled heavens you can see from a dark site.

I think that many people feel removed from astronomy regardless; black holes, distant galaxies, dark matter, dark energy… these are fascinating topics, but are so alien to our everyday life that astronomy can feel like, well, like it's happening on another planet.

But astronomy is quite literally over your head every day, every night, and if you are capable of looking up and doing so, even in the brightest city you can see it.

Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh prove this simple fact in the wonderful, wonderful video "A New View of the Moon." Please, take a few minutes, sit back, and watch this.

The Moon is so familiar, even to people who don't go out of their way to see it, that it gets ignored. So when it is literally brought into focus, magnified to the point where it becomes a world laid out before you, the craters and plains and mountains etched onto your retina and your brain, it is as profound an experience as any life has to offer.

Suddenly, the Universe expands, and your place in it becomes, for a moment, dizzyingly clarified.

Every moment of this video rings true. The choice of music — Debussy's "Claire de Lune" — may seem a bit on the nose, but the editing is perfect; the theme swells just as the first people put their eye to the eyepiece and exclaim, "Oh my God!"

I laughed out loud when I saw that even as tears welled in my eyes and my throat choked up. I have heard that exact outburst countless times when I've taken my own telescope out in public. I know of few greater joys than getting everything set up just so, aligning some celestial wonder in the center of the eyepiece, standing back, and watching the face of someone who is peering through such an instrument for the first time. Seeing the wave of awe, the wonder, the sheer delight, is truly and simply one of the greatest pleasures I know. You are showing someone the Universe.

This can impact so many people, from young to old, from rich to poor, from cynic to poet. And it's a reminder I myself need every now and again in peaceful and in turbulent times. It is no exaggeration, no hyperbole, to say that we are the cosmos, and the cosmos is in us. We are the Universe pondering itself, and to me that is as noble a struggle as there is.

Thanks to Pour Me Coffee and Jen Ouellette on Twitter.