Astronomy is perhaps the science whose discoveries owe least to chance, in which human understanding appears in its whole magnitude, and through which man can best learn how small he is.
G. C. Lichtenberg (1742-99), German physicist, philosopher.phorisms,”Notebook
C,” aph. 23 (written 1765-99; tr. by R. J. Hollingdale, 1990).
This article has been long over-due and it is high time that I wrote it down. Astronomy, ah! I have so many memories associated with this particular subject, which unfortunately in Pakistan is not even considered a subject by masses. In fact, they can hardly distinguish between Astrology and Astronomy! How I became interested in Astronomy is something that has interested me for a long time. No matter how much I think I can’t reach that point in my life when I developed a love for it. The farthest backward I have any memory of such sort is that of my sister asking me what a black hole was and at that moment I knew nothing but a few lines and then I started my search of black holes which ultimately developed into a strong love with star-lore. My passion also has some roots in my love for books. I encountered a lot of science fictions, which were too a reason for my stepping beyond the realms of Earth.
If I critically analyze my life, I find the entrance of Astronomy as the turning point of my life. Astronomy came as blessing, as a source of life. It showed me what life really is. Before that I was a dumb and ‘good for nothing’ boy. I didn’t have any special interest in anything, except book reading but that alone was limited to reading the detective stories, for which now I feel that I wasted that time and money. I don’t know why but I was not something you can call ‘intelligent’. But as soon as Astronomy came in my life, everything changed and I mean it, everything!
My whole way of thinking, my interests, my ideas. All other interests of mine have their roots in Astronomy. I think that for being ‘something’ you have to excel in one field or another. You must have an interest for something to develop yourself. What that interest is immaterial but what it gives you in return is something really valuable. For me, that field was Astronomy. Astronomy enabled me to grow, to develop, to turn into something of which I was proud. It increased my mental horizon, and showed me the path towards a different, better me.
Astronomy is a highly interesting subject and it can be studied on as difficult a level as you desire. Initially my interest was limited to only a few topics such as black holes and such, which are the major tools in the hands of science-fiction writers. But slowly and gradually I learned more and more and my interest grew in it. The sun-spots, the barren mountains of Mercury, the acidic-boiling rains of Venus, the red sand of Mars, the astray asteroids of Asteroid belt, the giant red-spot on Jupiter, the stunning rings of Saturn, the 90 degree tilt of Uranus, the blueness of Neptune and the frozen methane seas on Pluto were, for me, a great source of inspiration. But it was more interesting beyond the Solar System, where the distances were so large that they defeated light, the fastest thing in Universe.
The Milky-way, the Local-Group, and the Universe itself. Then I came to the Big-Bang, which was a point of transition from Astronomy to Astrophysics. Owing to the Big-Bang I was introduced to Stephen Hawkings and other great astrophysicists of their time and I became aware of the famous Theory of Relativity by Dr. Einstein which had been a basic source to work for the next generation of Astrophysicists. The Theory of Relativity is really something difficult and even after years of study I have managed to understand just its basic but the way it changes your concept of time and space is also something astonishing.
This theory has besides affected deeply other branches of knowledge such as philosophy. However, even the basic knowledge of Relativity made me a bit famous in my class during O Levels because I was the only student who knew something more than just the name of Einstein.
The study of Einstein’s life brought me face to face with Quantum Mechanics and I became interested in that. Quantum Mechanics is not less than Relativity yet it deals with physics at the atomic level while the Relativity is about the Universe at large. The two do not encounter each other normally, however, in situations such as a singularity, the two theories give different results. Anyway, the physicists are trying to solve this so lets leave it to them.
In short, it can be said that Astronomy introduced me to other branches of Physics, which I found quite interesting. In fact, during my O Levels my Physics-teacher had been really impressed by my ‘clarity of concepts’. In the first physics examination the majority barely passed while I was in the nineties.
Nearly parallel with my advancements in Physics was my excelling in Mathematics. When I had been in primary classes I hated maths but Astronomy created a place for maths in my heart. Maths has to play a great role in Astronomy and the mathematics required in Astronomy is really really tough. I have not yet studied Astronomy in mathematical terms because it is too advanced for me. However, I have not refrained from learning the simple mathematical laws. In fact, my first article which was published in the school magazine “Alhilal” was on ‘The Laws of Kepler’. Anyhow, I developed a great understanding in maths and I can say with deep humility that I was generally accepted as the brightest student of Mathematics in O Levels.
Reading the biographies of many Astronomers and Physicists gave me a chance to dwell in history. An article of mine on the history of Astronomy was published in the ‘Science Digest’. I had just one day posted that article and had forgotten about it, when suddenly one day in my school library I found that my article had been accepted and published with slight amendments. I was quite over-joyed at this. Unfortunately, Science Digest is a bit hard to find and despite all my efforts I couldn’t find another copy of that issue.
One of things due to which I became interested in religion, particularly Islam, was Astronomy. There are many verses of the Holy Quran which reveal certain aspects about the universe just recently discovered. I found a large number of books and articles on this topic, however, these books were on Islam and science, and not just Astronomy alone. Thus I came to know the Islamic aspects of other branches as well. From here I got interested in a highly controversial topic: The Theory of Organic Evolution, and I still am interested in this topic.
By virtue of Astronomy, I was attracted towards the science-fiction novels, and I read a large number of science-fictions including the Star Wars, and the Star Wars: Episode I has been my favorite book ever since. I also tried to write science-fictions, and I succeeded in writing some. In fact, writing has developed into another passion.
Owing to science-fictions and some other factors, I became interested in UFOs and aliens, though for a short while. However, this caused me to confront the basic nature of life because without understanding the principles of life, you can’t hope to learn about extra-terrestrial life. Thus, began my interest in Biology. However, this interest has been quite limited to a few topics such as the nature of life and evolution (as written above).
Somehow during this period I also developed affinity for Philosophy. I cannot locate the exact roots of this interest, but that probably is because it is not due to one factor but the overall affect of a large number of things. Perhaps it was because of some persons who were not only astronomers but also philosophers, especially the ancient ones, when knowledge had not been separated into distinct branches. But Philosophy has also became a passion for me, in which currently I am involved.
Initially I was not very good at star-gazing but after years of exercise my knowledge of star gazing has become satisfactory. This was because no star-gazing journal was available for star-gazing in Pakistan, or even if there were they were very expensive. However, fortunately I managed to get hold of a version of ‘Starry Night’ a computer program. The first constellation I learned to identify was ‘Orion’ especially due to the ‘Orion’s belt’ and because its one of the easiest to identify. Then it became a bit easier because once you have learnt the position of one constellation, others can be found relative to that. Another problem I face is that of ‘light pollution’ due to which many stars are not visible. Besides this, the sky is rarely clear and most of the time it is covered by clouds, which makes identification extremely difficult.
There was a short period in which I feared that maybe I’ll lose interest in Astronomy and that this passion is just temporary, yet this fear has been proved wrong again and again, because no matter in what I am interested it would have some link with Astronomy. Although I am doing F.Sc but I checked the syllabus of Physics for A Levels in which there is an optional part on Astrophysics and I can say with certainty that I can pass that part without even studying a bit!
In short, Astronomy was the basic cause of my metamorphosis and Astronomy is my first love and a man never forgets his first love!