“I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos, in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.” – Carl Sagan
Even after learning all of the mysteries, all of the answers, all of the beauty, and all of the chaos of the universe, it is still natural to ask a question: why do we care?
And it’s a good question. After all, astronomy is literally an otherworldly science. Why should we care about the universe? The winds and storms of Jupiter have no effect on our little ball of rock. The supernovae and black holes that pervade our universe don’t harm us – and even if they did, we would be powerless anyway to stop them. So why does it matter?
This thing looks cool, but it will never affect you. Or your children. Or your children’s children.
It is true that many things astronomers study do not affect Earth in any way, and probably never will. However, only by studying everything that we can could we hope to understand how the universe operates. We, after all, live in this universe, and learning what makes its gears turns could certainly help us in the future – which we very well may need.
The Global Catastrophic Risk survey lists our chance of extinction by the year 2100 to be 19%. Our risk of being extinguished, at least, from this planet, due to strictly natural causes is almost guaranteed within the next few million years. The sad fact remains that if the human race has any long-term hopes of survival, we simply cannot stay on this planet forever. Collisions will occur. Eruptions will sweep the surface. The Sun will expand. Earth will die. What a truly unfortunate end it would be, if our future great great great . . . great grandchildren had to tell their sons and daughters that there is no hope…all because we refused to study the cosmos above.
But there is a more fundamental reason. Astronomy isn’t simply the study of stars and planets. It’s the study of the universe – of our home. We live in this universe, after all. We follow its laws of physics, we see glimpses of what else it has to offer, and yet we are stuck tantalizingly on this watery sphere we call Earth, with merely dreams of one day venturing out and seeing the wonders of the universe. We’ve dreamt about the universe for the entirety of human existence, creating myths, religions, or worship out of the skies above. For the first time in human history we now realize that we have the ability to learn more about our universe – our home. Why should we not? It doesn’t need to affect us. We don’t need to control it.
Knowledge, in itself, is a treasure alone.