March 31, 2011

The Beauty of Science

There are some who say that attempting to break apart and analyze the world removes from the world some of its beauty. I myself have seen examples of exactly this phenomenon. But not all times does understanding the world take something from our perception of the world. Let me tell you a story.

In the beginning of all things, there was a god awful bang. In this explosion were created two hydrogen atoms. These atoms, in concert with many trillions of their kin, existed as they had done since their creation. A vast cloud was formed of them, as they waited patiently for billions of years as other stars were born. It was not until a nearby star, formed from the same elemental hydrogen, came to the end of its life, that our star began its coalescence.

Unable to sustain its process's of nuclear fusion, this nearby star collapsed and rebounded in a massive explosion which created the shockwave that started the collapse of our cloud of hydrogen. Our two atoms, having waited through the eons, have at last started the long process of coalescing into a star. After many millennia swirling around the cloud's center of gravity, these two atoms will arrive at the edge of what will one day be our sun.

They are taken down into the broiling heart of our new-formed sun, and there, at the end of all their waiting, they are brought together under intense heat and pressure in a process which will produce one atom of helium. The fusion of these two atoms released energy, energy which had been stored within the two original atoms since the moment of their birth. The energy from the formation of the universe was used to create these two atoms, and in their transformation into helium some of that energy was returned to the universe. This energy became a photon, a particle of light.

This particle, birthed in the fiery center of a star, began its torturous journey to the surface. There is a lot of matter in the depths of our stellar neighbor, and for millions of years our photon struggled against the amassed weight of material pressing down against it. But after many centuries of hardship, our photon finally broke free from the tyranny of the sun. Once released, this photon began traveling away from its stellar nursery, on into the vasty night between the worlds. Flying past the roasted world of Mercury, and barely glancing at the clouds of acid encircling Venus, our photon finally reaches our pale blue world. Light travels fast, more than 186,000  miles a second, but even at this breathtaking pace our photon must travel for more than eight minutes before it can reach our home planet.

As this photon enters our atmosphere, it's wave becomes bent and curved in accordance with the immutable laws of physics. Created in the heart of the star, and born from the union of two atoms created at the beginning of all things, having fought its way clear of the sun and traveling through the empty miles of space, bent and scattered by our atmosphere, our photon finally reaches the surface of our fair planet.

Our photon may strike a rock, or a tree, or a rooftop. It might splash into the ocean or rebound off of bare earth. But once it does strike, it briefly becomes a part of whatever structure it just impacted. The energy contained within the photon is absorbed by the material. Our photon, with some slight changes brought on by its interaction with the Earth, is emitted once again, travels through the atmosphere, and enters my eye.

This preserved energy from our creation gets absorbed in my retina and travels, as electrochemical impulses, from my eye along a nerve which leads to my brain. This impulse is sorted and used, is transformed into an image. This photon, along with trillions of others just like it, have come together to create an absolutely stunning sight: sunset over the mountains. The fires of creation have been preserved through these aeons in order to create jaw dropping beauty.

Knowing how the world works does nothing to detract from its beauty. Quite the opposite in fact.


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