Over the past year, how many questions did you ask that went unanswered?
Most of us are rather quick to bring our questions to someone else, consult Siri, or punch the question into our favorite web browser. In the technological era of today, there are few questions that are left to the imagination. Inquiries hang in the air no longer than a few seconds before someone has conjured an answer from their cell phone. Even the age old question: “how many licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?” has a Google answer of 364.
Imagination and guesswork have been replaced with an expectation of certainty. As a result, scientists and non-scientists alike are beginning to notice that we seem to have lost our sense of wonder.
Maybe this loss of wonder is to blame for the loss of our connection to the night sky, which surrounds us with potentially infinite mysteries. Perhaps some of us have dismissed the act of stargazing in the name of lack of knowledge about what we’re looking at. Maybe we become uncomfortable with the fact that we can’t trace seemingly random constellation patterns. We, in turn, lose interest, failing to realize that humankind has always traced their very own pictures in the stars to make sense of the chaos. We might forget that, as children, we continually asked questions of our world, not because we needed to know the answers, but because we could not contain our curiosity. Have we allowed the apparent certainty that technology provides to stamp out our ability to imagine and our tendency to wonder?
Yet in this age of rings, dings, and voice command, not all is lost. The night sky has the power to restore our awe and recapture our wonder, by rekindling a passion for not knowing. In 2020, make a commitment to embrace the unknown around you. You can start tonight. Go outside, look up, and allow yourself to be transported to a realm beyond planet Earth. Experience a depth of beauty beyond yourself. Realize that the cosmos is shrouded in mystery, inviting us to investigate the unknowns of astronomy. Ask an unfamiliar star to share its name. Ask the universe how many galaxies it contains, and how many of those galaxies contain planets like ours. We can ask such questions in spite of the fear that we may not receive an answer. We can marvel at the secrets of the sky and bask in the unknowing. We can discover that the Earth is a pale blue dot in a sea of billions of other dots, and maybe we can, once again, learn how to wonder.