Why Astrophysics Matters
Astrophysics is the pursuit of knowledge beyond that glorious curtain we call the sky. From our celestial neighborhood known as the solar system to the boundary of the known universe, there is so much to learn and so much to study that a field that began with the ancient civilizations is still as strong today as before.
Several people, however, are of the opinion that astrophysics is a pointless pursuit of people of science, just an opportunity for learned individuals to flex their knowledge on the populace. They believe that there is no point in looking at the sky when we have so many problems here on Earth. And that, precisely, is where they are completely wrong.
There are several innovations that we would not have had if it were not for the advent of astrophysics. The pursuit of better telescopes led to a better understanding of the science of lenses and optics, both of which are integral to the population. Try counting how many people that you know that have glasses! The various innovations that developed lenses from a specialized tool to peer into the heavens to a commodity that is readily available in Dollar Trees are absolutely staggering.
Technologies such as the Velcro would not have existed if they weren’t necessary for space travel. The leaps and bounds in aerodynamics and aeronautics that gave rise to the sleek, fuel-efficient aircraft of today would not have happened if we weren’t fixated on getting to space. Durability in light materials, a greater understanding of combustion and thermodynamics, the development of radiation shields… the impacts that astrophysics has had ranges from things as serious as these to even the technology used in diapers to lock moisture in!
One of the greatest questions that arises in human thought is, “Where did we come from?” Cosmology, one of the most prominent branches of astrophysics, strives to solve that problem with detailed scientific analysis and proper understanding of the way that the universe works; indeed, knowing where we came from can assist in answering an even more major question: “Where are we going?”
The understanding that we have gained in deep space complements what is happening on Earth: it is becoming more and more evident that, at some point in the future, humanity will have to leave the Earth in order to prevent its extinction. Astrophysics is already working on the issue, with the search for exoplanets that could become our new home, to the development of technology that will aid us in our interstellar sojourns. Further, advances into developing the Grand Unified Theory could, perhaps, unlock the ability to harness gravity, which would change the world forever…
Finally, peering into the sky is equivalent to peering into the human soul. The depths of the mysteries that can be found in interstellar space can help soothe the soul while pricking over-inflated egos. Carl Sagan once said the following in response to seeing a picture of the Earth from space:
“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
This understanding is often the most healing aspect of astrophysics and has the most spiritual impact among the populace.
It is evident, keeping all of this in mind, that astrophysics is, in fact, quite valuable to us as a species. The inherent benefits that astrophysics has will only keep increasing as our technological innovations improve and we learn more about what is out there and how it affects us.
So, instead of being a science that will fizzle out within a few decades, astrophysics has just begun: the only thing that we can hope is that the secrets, marvels, and wonders of the universe are unlocked in our lifetimes. The inspiration that astrophysics provides can help lend hope to a new generation and can give birth to a new iteration of humanity. After all, when it comes to astrophysical achievements, well, the sky’s the limit!