Larousse Encyclopedia of Astronomy

Larousse Encyclopedia of Astronomy

Larousse Encyclopedia of Astronomy

Larousse Encyclopedia of Astronomy

Excerpt

We are living in the space age. Man has broken the tyrannical bounds of gravity that confined him so long to earth, only a tiny speck in the cosmos. Now man's machines and devices travel across the gravity barrier in the early exploration of a universe so vast that it defies comprehension. No longer are man's eyes and instruments blinded by the black curtain of atmosphere that closes out most of the messages of radiation from outer space. Now vehicles shot beyond this atmosphere contain instruments that can 'see' the universe by the ultra-violet light, x-rays, infra-red light and radio emanations that could never penetrate our cloudy, opaque and tremulous atmosphere. Even man himself has made his voyages into space.

Man has developed a great insight concerning the sources of energy in the universe. Reactions in the nuclei of atoms that keep the stars burning for billions of years are now well enough understood and controlled to turn the wheels of industry. Although the stars have not shown man directly the secrets of their radiation we have learned from them that such secrets exist. The stars have served as beacons to give man the hope and assurance that by continuous delving into nature's treasury of knowledge he might expect to find answers to questions involving practical power sources as well as evolutionary secrets hidden for hundreds of millions of years.

Some might argue that for the first time in man's history astronomy has taken its rightful place, because problems of the nature, the past, the present and the future of the physical universe represent the greatest challenge to man except perhaps man himself. But the significance of astronomy in man's upward climb from the cave-men must not be discounted in the dark ages of the past. Every sunrise presented the miracle of the newly born sun in some older philosophies, while each sunset represented its death. The stars have reflected man's own concepts, aspirations, fears and hates in countless different forms in cultures of the past. Only rarely do the stars and planets stand for evil, the undesirable or the dreaded. Usually the heavenly bodies mirror the idealism and hopes and aspirations of man and reinforce his will towards life and progress.

The late Sir Arthur Eddington, the great British astrophysicist, believed that physicists on a cloud-bound planet could by sheer deduction conclude that stars were possible and indeed delineate their character. None will contest in this statement but one might seriously doubt whether intelligent beings living without the ostensible evidence for extra-terrestrial . . .

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