Skyless astronomy

My disappointment was shared.

Last weekend, in New England, thousands of fellow star gazers and I were primed to flop on our backs and ogle a night of shooting stars.

Mid-August means the Perseid meteors are hurtling themselves into the earth's atmosphere at 130,000 m.p.h. Peak viewing was to be Aug. 12.

Alas, clouds, clouds, and more clouds blanketed the sky, collapsing the heavens like a circus tent falling on the ringmaster. Instead of astronomy, philosophy became the order of the evening; the refrain, like pennant races of my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers and adopted Boston Red Sox, "Wait'll next year."

Astronomy and philosophy defy material preconceptions. Each discipline grapples with the two great phenomena of human experience: time and space.

Meteors can make dinosaurs seem young. Some are "primordial remnants" from when the sun and then the planets formed 4.5 billion years ago. How to fathom their origins in a blink, tracing rocketing light across the sky en route to extinction?

Only imagination and mathematics allow me to contemplate the fact that light I see from Vega, one of the brightest stars in the summer sky, is light that started its journey when Richard Nixon was in the White House.

And now a "new astronomy" orbits in the starry night, (page 13). "It requires an arsenal of some of the most complex computer programs ever written to process, organize, analyze, and communicate" information on light from the stars, writes Robert Cowen, who compares its complexity to the Genome Project.

Whew! Clouds or no clouds, I'm flat on my back again.

E-mail Ideas@csps.com

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