Just spent an hour watching Phil Plait and a bunch of other astronomers (including Mike Brown, who I guess is a Discordian saint by the virtue of discovering Eris (pbuh) Discordia in her corpolent, post-famous-Greek-goddess overweight plutoid form) talking about their stuff, the Mysteries of the Cosmos; and while there ain’t tongs big enough to pry me from mathematics, astronomy and physics certainly are the most beautiful real-life sciences there are.
My favorite example is the simply beautiful system of the evolution of stars. Enter hydrogen and helium, apply inward gravitational collapse and outward exploding nuclear fusion, wait until the cart dips over and all goes kablooey, and exit all other elements. What is left is a cloud of building blocks for the next generation, fuel for the new stellar furnaces, and just maybe some space oddity like a neutron star or a black hole. Or maybe a dim brown dwarf. (Question: if there was a black hole so small a bit of light got away… no, wait, I won’t make a brown hole joke. Some limits!)
And how about the fact that if you got a massive planet, it keeps even the lighter elements in its atmosphere: thus the gas giant Jupiter. A slightly smaller one, and hydrogen and helium eventually bounce away and escape, but heavier gases like oxygen remain: the Earth, and that’s us, and that’s why we have something to breathe. And a smaller object still, and eventually all gases blow away, overwhelmed by the sunlight’s energy and the random collisions up high, underwhelmed by gravitation… and you got the barren, atmosphereless Moon. (Incidentally, I learned of the equations for this from the rulebook of the space roleplaying game 2300 AD; it was a very thorough manual.)
I’ll take the beauty of understanding over the awe of mystery any day. Though of course you don’t get understanding unless you go after… the Mysteries of the Cosmos!
(These Discover titles seem better if you yell them.)
(Also, one mystery of the Cosmos I haven’t been able to solve yet: why in the name of bleeding yeti and blinding flips there’s no Region 2 DVD release of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos? What’s the problem here? Isn’t the reputedly best science documentary series ever worth the effort?)
(To be honest, I know there is a Spanish Region 2 release of Cosmos, but whenever I contemplate the difficulty of getting hold of that one I get this blinding, stabbing pain in my occipital lobe.)