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Regret Over a Missed Career in Astronomy

Nov 27, 2011 • family

This weekend I was doing some research for a young adult novel I'm writing. The novel explores the idea of music as a gateway power, and I started reading about the music of the spheres. One of my colleagues mentioned this during one of our creative writing workshops. As I read about the music of the spheres, I remembered my fascination with astronomy and science. This was my initial major in college, and as I read more and more about science (light, sound, stars, etc.), I was kicking myself for having switched out of a science major.

When I was a freshman, I took advanced astronomy courses. All through my mission I intended to major in physics and astronomy. But when I returned from my mission, I really struggled with the math. I always earned B's in these classes -- B's in the advanced math classes, the physics classes, and the astronomy classes. I guess at some point I acknowledged that math wasn't my strong suit, and that I really liked writing. I didn't want to be a second-rate physicist, so I switched and embraced an identity as an English major, leaving science behind.

I kind of wish I hadn't.

I was always drawn in by the theories of astronomy, the mind-bending ideas. I liked learning about black holes and red dwarfs, about the ever expanding universe. I love just looking at the stars. (Who doesn't, of course).

In the past, philosophers often didn't separate science from the arts. The Greeks sought after Truth and Beauty, no matter what the forms. I'm fascinated at how music actually runs through science for the past 2,500 years. Maybe I can be a science fiction writer instead, like a kind of Isaac Asimov. But I have so much to learn, so much to catch up on.

Tonight I watched a Netflix documentary about the origins of the universe. After the Big Bang, the universe (which includes space itself) has continued to expand. Scientists aren't sure whether the universe will expand forever, or if it will someday collapse back into a small mass.

I wanted to demonstrate the idea of the universe's expansion to our kids, so I grabbed a balloon from the cupboard and speckled it with black dots. I then blew up the balloon to demonstrate how the dots all expand away from each other. For some reason, the black dots kind of faded as I blew up the balloon, so it wasn't as instructive as I had hoped.

Perhaps it was an omen, but there was a small hole in the balloon. After I finished expanding it, the hole leaked air slowly out. It appears the universe will one day collapse after all.

Despite the balloon demonstration, I haven't been able to ignite the kids' interest in astronomy. In fact, the kids seemed a bit put off by the idea of the Big Bang.  It was Sunday, and they had just been in Primary a few hours ago. I mentioned that the Big Bang could have been the way Jesus created the universe, and that seemed to put them at ease, although I think they would have preferred something more along the lines of Narnia, with Aslan singing the world into existence.

Tomorrow there will be a Groupon deal for the Clark Planetarium, with family memberships at half the price. You can bet we will be buying one.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.