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Thankful Astronomer

The Milky Way from Earth. Image Credit: Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn (Weather and Sky Photography)

Typically, I’ve been known as the Angry Astronomer. But since it’s Thanksgiving here in the US, I figured I should take a break and remind everyone that there’s a lot to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for our galaxy. Aside from being quite nice to look at, its collective (but weak) magnetic field, and the pressure from all the stars within it, protect us from the shock of plowing through the intergalactic medium as well as intergalactic cosmic rays.

I’m thankful for quantum mechanics. While it wasn’t the most fun course I’ve ever taken the fact that particles often behave as waves, giving rise to atomic orbitals, is what makes up the discreet absorption an emission spectra. Without this astronomers wouldn’t be able to determine the composition of stars from great distances.

I’m thankful for Newton’s third law; that one about equal and opposite forces and all that. It’s what lets the moon create tides. This may have had important effects in stabilizing our axial tilt and making life feasible on the planet in the first place. It’s also what allows us to detect planets around other stars through the “wobble method” and exoplanets are just cool.

I’m thankful for the immensely pristine vacuum that exists just beyond our atmosphere. Its existence allows astronomers to test theories at some of the lowest densities imaginable.

I’m thankful for neutron stars and black holes which allow astronomers to test theories at the highest densities imaginable.

I’m thankful for the supernovae which produce these objects and seed the universe with the heavy elements necessary to make planets, people, pineapples, and platypi.

I’m thankful that we’ve had the relatively close supernova (SN 1987a) to study. While I’d love to have another one in our own galaxy, I’m thankful we haven’t had one too close, or that directed a Gamma Ray Burst our way. With all the other issues we face from the universe, another Ordovician extinction just doesn’t sound too fun.

I’m thankful for dark matter. It may be a huge headache for astronomers trying to figure out what it is, but even if we can’t see it, it’s still like the Force: It binds the galaxies together.

I’m thankful for the Sun. Its nearly 1400 watts per square meter pours energy onto our planet, making all life possible, Creationist claims and ignorance aside.

I’m thankful for our atmosphere. It’s generally pretty breathable and it does a great job of blocking out that cancer causing UV. If only it would lighten up and let some more IR through so we didn’t have to send telescopes to space to study this region of the spectrum.

I’m thankful for this lump of rock, third from the Sun, we’re all riding on. It the grand scheme of things, it’s just a pale blue dot, but that’s home. And it’s not so bad.

So what is everyone else thankful for?

About 

Jon is a science educator currently living in Missouri. He is a high school teacher and does outreach with the St. Louis Astronomical society as well as presenting talks on science and related topics at regional conventions. He graduated from the University of Kansas with his BS in Astronomy in 2008 and has maintained the Angry Astronomer blog since 2006.
For more of his work, you can find his website here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Chet Twarog November 24, 2011, 2:04 AM

    I am thankful that my biological parents reproductively created me in their own image with my mother giving me life.

  • NovaStar99 November 24, 2011, 2:06 AM

    Thankful to read good articles like this. They don’t come along very often.
    Thank you, Jon Voisey. :)

  • Anonymous November 24, 2011, 5:20 AM

    I thankful that the fine structure constant α is roughly 1/137. Were it not for this coupling constant being this value, we all wouldn’t be here, and we wouldn’t be communicating as we are this moment.

  • Andy70 November 24, 2011, 5:21 AM

    I’m thankful for curiosity, pragmatism, humor, and love.

  • Anonymous November 24, 2011, 7:36 AM

    After reading “Ordovician extinction” article, I’m thankful for people devastating this planet. Because after every great extinction comes great explosion of life and diversity. Pity we won’t live to see it happen :/

  • HeadAroundU November 24, 2011, 8:26 AM

    I’m thankful for nothing. :D

  • HeadAroundU November 24, 2011, 8:26 AM

    I’m thankful for nothing. :D

  • Anonymous November 24, 2011, 8:56 AM

    Are you sure it’s only 1.4Kw per sqare metre? My small bedroom heater gives out 2Kw. I know it might not be a good comparison,but your figure seems very small.

    • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE November 24, 2011, 9:13 PM

      It is correct; see: Sunlight.

      • Anonymous November 25, 2011, 6:27 PM

        Thanks. Surprised at surface output when the corona temps considered!

  • Anonymous November 24, 2011, 9:54 AM

    If a heretical note can be posted here: I am thankful for the more Science-anchored Creationists – those who DO have a firm hold on man’s present state of knowledge and understanding about life on Earth, energy in Space, and matter in Time. The places, and people, who dare to speak-up, and courageously speak-out, to challenge and debate – and, above all, question! – the institutionalized teachings, and the established tenets of evolutionary doctrine, reigning in schools of education, and dominant at centers of learning.

    Yes, sadly, there are traces of “ignorance” here and there, but gaps of ignorance found among some, a broad brush to sweep away all “Creationist” thought does not make. Science, of course, never errs, and ignorance is no where to be found in its stately halls and imposing chambers; its orthodoxy of established teachings stand an edifice unmoved – like an Earth-centered universe, dethroned in orbital motions; or, a Steady State cosmogony, left in shadows before a Microwave Afterglow.

    There is the Science of detailing how a machine functions and operates, and how a system works and interrelates. And then, there is the science that attempts to answer how, and why the machine was built, and from where the system came. One rests mostly on solid rock, the other too much on shifting sands.

  • Anonymous November 24, 2011, 6:47 PM

    It’s nice to feel satisfaction at one’s existence and one’s environment, there are so many factors we depend on to exist and even more to be sentient. I hope the inhabitants of other planets, neutron stars or even universes feel some analogue of contentment with their various lots. I’m not sure if the universe gets any positive benefit from gratitude but it gave it to us in the first place so why not be thankful?

  • Anonymous November 26, 2011, 5:19 PM

    I am most thankful when I am out late at night with one of my telescopes and the sky is clear. The glories above! Seeing them fills me with wonder and awe and reminds that WE are stardust, WE are golden.. and the view from this garden is trick!

  • Anonymous November 26, 2011, 5:19 PM

    I am most thankful when I am out late at night with one of my telescopes and the sky is clear. The glories above! Seeing them fills me with wonder and awe and reminds that WE are stardust, WE are golden.. and the view from this garden is trick!

  • Anonymous November 26, 2011, 5:19 PM

    I am most thankful when I am out late at night with one of my telescopes and the sky is clear. The glories above! Seeing them fills me with wonder and awe and reminds that WE are stardust, WE are golden.. and the view from this garden is trick!

  • Rogue Scientist November 26, 2011, 6:56 PM

    i’m thankful for this article.

  • Rogue Scientist November 26, 2011, 6:56 PM

    i’m thankful for this article.

  • Rogue Scientist November 26, 2011, 6:56 PM

    i’m thankful for this article.

  • Anonymous November 27, 2011, 10:03 AM

    “(…) another Ordovician extinction just doesn’t sound too fun.”

    The absence of cosmic gamma ray bursts is irrelevant now that we’re causing the Grandmother of All Mass Extinctions. A few decades from now the flora and fauna will have changed so much that we’ll start to feel like we’re in another planet.

    “I’m thankful for dark matter. It may be a huge headache for astronomers trying to figure out what it is, but even if we can’t see it, it’s still like the Force: It binds the galaxies together.”

    How can anybody be so sure about its existence? There are theories that give other explanations for the unexpected behavior of matter in the outer reaches of galaxies. Even if it really existed, can we expect to find out what it is when we can’t even explain what gravity ultimately is? I challenge anyone to prove that gravity is an intrinsic property of matter rather than a property residing in space itself that affects matter according to its heft and to the density of the surrounding space (much lower in the aforementioned reaches).

    Signed,
    Enraged Amateur Astronomer

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