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Learning about the Universe from Haley
Learning about the Universe from Haley

Some experiences are hard to put into words, even simple ones, like the taste of salt. And then there are experiences that not only defy language, they defy our very foundations, transcend our perceptions, and change our experience of reality forever. This is the story of such an experience.

I’d been a stargazer ever since I was very young, and I felt truly fortunate to have the opportunity to see Haley's comet during my lifetime, and I waited with great anticipation for its arrival.

After several cloudy nights, the clear evening I had waited for came, and I watched the sun sank below the horizon. I had watched where the sun set to catch its last sliver of gold, and then looked skyward to watch for the comet. As the skies became darker, I continued to scan, and then, there it was. Twilight hadn't yet turned to night, and so I couldn't make out the full length of the tail, but I was fascinated. Soon, however, the darkness thickened, and the comet began to stretch further and further back. My mind was sifting through various things I knew about comets and their orbits, and one fact that stood out was that the tail always streamed out away from the Sun, blown by the solar wind. And then it occurred to me that that fact meant that the comet always pointed toward the sun, but the line it made somehow seemed wrong. I looked at the comet, and I looked at where the sun had set, then back at the comet. And then, something deep in me simply flipped.

Until this moment, despite my knowing all the numbers and distances, there had never been a sense of depth for me when I looked at these objects. They were simply points in the sky - flat. But in that moment, standing there, stunned, I felt the vastness of the depth as my eyes made the connection. My mind whirred for a second, and then fell utterly silent as the full weight of the vastness caught me in mid breath. It was as if the incredible emptiness of the void somehow had a force of its own, and I felt with my whole being the depth of the Universe. This was no intellectual interpretation, it was the same sort of feeling one gets the first time you stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon, and you feel the vastness before you. This was on an order of magnitude that was indescribable. And I knew in my body in an instant that the Universe wasn't "out there", but it was everywhere, the Earth was it, the comet was it, the sun was it, and I was it. In that instant I lost the separateness I had always felt from the Universe, and I became it. My perception of the Universe - and even the world around me - has been unutterably, wonderfully, altered ever since.

Details
Date Taken: 06/14/2011
Author: David X
Category: Orion's Astronomy Essay Contest (2009)

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