It is the stars, the stars above us, govern our conditions

I see that I can’t see the Milky Way as I used to. It may be my eyes, but it seems I’m not the only one. 

It is the stars, the stars above us, govern our conditions

Children born on vast areas of our planet may never see firmaments of stars laid across deep space, all glittering and winking like diamonds in chandelier light. They will, no doubt, be told they’re there, and will accept it on pure faith, like tourists believing in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks on a rainy Kerry day.

The poet John Milton described the Milky Way as “a broad and ample road where dust is gold/ And pavement stars”. It must have been the near death to him (as to anyone) when he went blind. He was, figuratively “Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves”, with “... that one Talent which is death to hide, Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent To serve there with my Maker...” For the mighty Milton, the stars would, henceforth, be in the mind, no longer seen.

Shakespeare called the Milky Way “... the floor of heaven... thick inlaid with patines of bright gold”.

I wonder if it can still be seen from Stratford-on-Avon. The respected magazine Science Advances reports that, in the UK, it is now so obscured by light pollution that it can no longer be seen by 77% of Britons and, blotted out over 14% of the country, is also invisible of many rural folk.

However, even as the night sky becomes less visible from Earth, earthlings and their gadgetry are, year on year, getting closer to investigating the “patines of bright gold” from close up. The ancient Greeks, noticing that the planets moved, named them “wanderers”: We are now, also, planetary wanderers ourselves.

It is none too soon: our remaining Earth resources are depleted by the day. Some studies hold that, daily, as many as 150 species of flora and fauna are wiped from the commonwealth of Earth. Rivers are polluted and skies darkened; even the sun is darkened — but we generate billions more humans to further deplete what resources are left. It seems time to get up and go, time to find new worlds, new sources of energy and food.

We are resilient and resourceful; and some among us are now working at discovering new, viable worlds, searching the vast, dark spaces beyond our solar system. A ‘moon buggy’ creeps across the surface of Mars, a lander clings to a comet in flight, a spacecraft whizzes past Pluto a light year from Earth.

Now, astronomers are excited by the discovery of an earth-size planet called Proxima Centauri b, orbiting the nearest known star to our sun (Proxima Centauri, discovered in 1915) and within that star’s “habitable zone”, where liquid water could potentially exist on or within it. ‘Only’ 4.2 light-years from our solar system, it is destined to become a focus for fly-by investigation, intense research, and exploration.

Personally, or eccentrically, if you wish, I see hope in the stars. I have always seen hope in the stars: I’ve regularly written about this hope in these columns for decades. Two billionaires, Geoff Bezos of Amazon. com and Elon Musk of Tesla and PayPal, are presently vying to reach Mars with rockets, hoping to colonise it for the use of mankind.

I can think of no better way to spend billons than to send them into space with the worthy motive of seeking out resources to save humanity from self-destruction by eating itself off Mother Earth or by blowing her to kingdom come, wherever that may be. I am always circumspect about obscene wealth in this unequal world, but I applaud the philanthropy of Chuck Feeney, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and others.

Onward and upward is my mantra; the earth’s depths are depleted, our salvation may be in the heavens.

Per ardua, ad astra; I won’t live to see it, but you, my good reader, might. Given our planet’s pollution, its burgeoning population and diminishing natural resources, farming and/ or mining a far-off planet blessed with water would give humanity a new lease of life. With hydroponics and the adaptation of crops for unearthly conditions, Milton’s “dust” could become “gold”.

Who knows but that in coming centuries our descendants will husband and farm extra-terrestrial Edens? It’s a tempting thought, but as I look out at this lovely late October day, I ask myself who would want to leave Earth, anyway? We might import soil, plants and creatures to a lifeless planet but it would be aeons before that brave, new world could match our Mother Earth for sheer diversity. Once more respected, she would remain the fairest of them all.

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Saturday, November 27, 2021

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