Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lift up your eyes

I have posted before about how the Internet enriches our appreciation of the world. Now, just as I can walk the streets of New York from a screen in my hotel in Paris with Google Street, I can scan the universe with WikiSky.

WikiSky is an amazingly detailed map of the sky put together from countless high quality images from pros like the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Eventually the site hopes to cover more than a quarter of the entire sky but even at this early stage of development, around 500 million stars are included with more being added every year. The project is inspirational both in concept and the reach of its ambition. Its vision was inspired by the concern that most people are too focused on their everyday life to consider the big challenge we face: surviving in a universe when we exist on just a single planet. Stephen Hawking summed up this challenge when he said, “I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet.” Well yes, accidents and effects for which we are directly responsible. For me, though, the joy of the site is not learning about the millions of planets, stars and galaxies that surround us and certainly not meditating on the precariousness of humanity’s survival. For me this site is a reminder of the precious nature of our own world. There is nothing like raising your eyes to the heavens to appreciate the wonder of the earth beneath your feet.