A couple of months ago I finally replaced my huge boxy dinosaur of a television with a sleek Smart TV. (I’m never at the cutting edge of technology, and I’m okay with that.) Since then, I’ve been discovering the joys of Netflix—which Cindy Carroll discussed in her post here. My latest Netflix series is Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. I never managed to catch the 2014 series in its normal season, so I’m excited to be able to watch it now. (If you want to sneak away and check it out for yourself, you can watch a clip here or here.)
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts the show, an update of Carl Sagan’s 1980 Cosmos series, and he takes the viewer on a journey through time and space, from the explosion of the Big Bang—which is as far away and as far back in time as we can see—to now, from the immensity of the cosmos as a whole to the tiniest of quantum particles. I often find myself watching wide-eyed with my mouth hanging open. Not all the information is new to me. I learned some of it in high school or college science classes or read about it somewhere along the way. But much of it is new—and what isn’t is presented in such a way as to be a fascinating refresher. The images—from pictures of nebulae and galaxies and universes to microscopic creatures—are amazing. And the explanations and special effects make the concepts understandable—even if they sometimes remain incomprehensible (at least to me). I can grasp the gist, even if I can’t quite wrap my mind around the hugeness or smallness of it all.
It is a humbling and uplifting experience.
In the first episode, after giving a brief overview of the size of the observable universe, Tyson asks, “Feeling a little small?” Yep.
I grew up on a farm in Kentucky, where we could look up through perfect darkness into a sky full of stars, with the denser band making up the Milky Way clearly visible. In college, also in Kentucky, my astronomy class routinely met late at night or in the wee hours of the morning on the campus’s South athletic field where we could view the sky with our naked eyes or with telescopes our professor had set up for us. Sometimes friends and I would go to the athletic field just to lay back in the grass and sink into the sky.
Without the knowledge of science, the stars in the sky are awe-inspiring. With the knowledge of science, with images of Jupiter and its great red spot, the Crab Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy and our own Milky Way, with the awareness of supernovas, red giants, white dwarfs, and black holes…. Yeah, beyond awe-inspiring. I can’t grasp it all, but I’m thrilled by its incomprehensible complexity and immensity.
I live in a city now—a small city, but a city nonetheless—and, while, on clear nights, I can see some stars, there’s far too much light for the star-filled skies I remember from childhood to be visible. I have to depend on vacation trips to places less light-polluted for glimpses of the Milky Way. But that view is one to which I still go when I need a change of perspective. I even wrote a scene about such an experience for one of my characters in A Gift of Shadows, which will be released later this year. That scene seems a fitting way to end this post. Enjoy!
A Gift of Shadows excerpt:
Kev’s whole body shook as he rematerialized in the mud room of the cabin. Yanking his old barn coat off the hook, he shoved his arms in the sleeves, thrust his hands into the pockets, and stepped outside. He walked a few quick laps around the cabin, letting the sound of the snow crunching under his boots and the touch of the cold, crisp air on his face calm the fear that made his heart thud in his chest and his trembling hands fist in his pockets.
When he no longer felt as if his body was going to shake apart at the seams, he stopped, took a couple of deep breaths, and dropped his head back to look up. Countless stars filled the clear night sky, tiny lights blinking in the soothing blackness. He lowered to the ground and lay back in the snow. Staring at the sky, he sank into the starry blanket and breathed in the cold. He emptied his mind, letting it go black as the night, and then he filled it with stars. Gradually, his heartbeat slowed to normal.
“Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” title from imdb.com
“Milky Way Night Sky Black Rock Desert Nevada” by Steve Jurvetson – Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Milky_Way_Night_Sky_Black_Rock_Desert_Nevada.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Milky_Way_Night_Sky_Black_Rock_Desert_Nevada.jpg
“Jupiter by Cassini-Huygens” by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona – http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA02873. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jupiter_by_Cassini-Huygens.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Jupiter_by_Cassini-Huygens.jpg
“Crab Nebula” by NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University) – HubbleSite: gallery, release.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crab_Nebula.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Crab_Nebula.jpg
“Andromeda Galaxy (with h-alpha)” by Adam Evans – M31, the Andromeda Galaxy (now with h-alpha)Uploaded by NotFromUtrecht. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andromeda_Galaxy_(with_h-alpha).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Andromeda_Galaxy_(with_h-alpha).jpg
Connect with Stephanie Stamm:
Stephanie Stamm is the author of the New Adult/Young Adult urban fantasy A Gift of Wings. (The sequel, A Gift of Shadows, will be released late 2014.)
She has also contributed stories (one fictional and one true) to the following volumes: