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Astronomy Conversation

Scott Ditto

As I set up the snacks I had promised a another couple that my husband and I

have known for a little bit now I thought on some of the questions I was going to touch

on. I knew there would be a few they couldnt answer, there were a few I couldnt answer

before lectures in this astronomy class. So I planned to get those topics out and down

before we moved on to the topics people typically enjoy discussing more and where the

majority of our conversation would happen. Opening a bag of Oreos for some reason,

jolted my thoughts to the follow up paper I would be writing sometime after the up

coming conversation. I hate the ePortfolio, I sighed to my husband as he finished the

tea. I chose my husband to be one of the people in the conversation because it would

be easy for him to just join us and why not. The other participates in our discussion were

Cade and Bryce; a couple who I feel are educated and would have interesting ideas or

thoughts to contribute. The final member of our group was Angie, a med school student

and best friend of mine who I know would help in lifting the mood of the conversation.

No one partaking in the discussion has a back ground in astronomy past the seventh

grade science class; except Cade and myself who have taken an introductory class.

Admittedly, Cade disclosed his class was four years ago and he is unable to remember
any of it. Mikeum, my husband, proudly boasts his memory and that he would be able to

sufficiently recall his seventh grade science education. I laughed out loud.

To start, as mentioned earlier, I wanted to ask the questions they mostly would

not know able to recall. I figured these are where the conversation would be slow and

hold the least amount of interest.

Where was the Big Bang located?

I thought I would start with the start of it all, the big bang. The common

conception is that the big bang is the center of universe because it was the start of the

universe. Most people assume that the big bang was an explosion that pushed

everything out in all directions, thus becoming the center of the universe. Naturally,

Mikeum jumped to this conclusion because that is essentially what is taught in grade

school. Angie agreed with him and expressed that as her own belief as well. Cade

brought up a different theory or direction and said that the big bang was not actually an

explosion but just the start of space it self as space began to expand and that there is

not any one spot or location that the big bang occurred, but rather everywhere. Bryce

did not really have any thing to add so he nodded in agreement to both sides.

How do we measure the distance to a galaxy?

Again, Cade was the only one who had a correct answer to this question, though

he could not recall the exact way method. In order to explain how we measure the
distance to a galaxy I used the metaphor of an oncoming car at night. We can figure

how far away the car is by how bright its headlights are. The brighter, the closer and

vice versa. We do the same when looking at another galaxy by measuring its

brightness. If we can not find the distance based off the galaxy then we look at the

closest super nova because we know the brightness of it.

What is dark matter? Dark energy?

This term was familiar to all in attendance but only because of some sci-fi shows

and films mostly. Bryce this time spoke up because he did remember this one! As he

spoke Cade shook his head in agreement and confirmed what he agreed with. Bryce

pointed out that they are two different things. Dark matter is an invisible force that kinda

shapes everything and dark energy is a matter that is thought to be the reason the

universe is still expanding. Angie thought dark energy was a force that black holes use

to suck everything in.

The next few questions I knew they may or may not know. These were questions

that were more on a grade school level or just general knowledge that most people

know for one reason or another.

How does the Sun produce energy?


Surprisingly, no one was able to answer this one. I explained how the sun

converts hydrogen in helium through a process called nuclear fusion which creates the

energy in the suns core.

What determines the habitability of a planet?

Water. Water was the unanimous vote. While true, a habitable zone is also

needed. This means that whatever planet is a safe distance form its star and able to

hold a stable atmosphere.

Is Pluto a planet?

Pluto will ALWAYS be a planet in my books, Bryce exclaimed.

With that we moved on to the next set of topics. These ones reach a little more in the

unknown or unproven and are meant more to discover what the participants think on the

question.

Is there a future for life on Earth?

Everyone at the table were in agreeance that climate issues severely threaten the

future of life on earth but are unsure if that means the eventual end of life on Earth. If we

are able to get climate issues under control then we certainly have a future on earth.

Is there a role for man in space?

Angie and Bryce do not think we will ever be in space in the sense that we will

have huge space stations and cities in space, but they can believe that we will be on
other planets. Cade and Mikeum were more partial to man having communities in space

and large stations more than humans inhabiting other planets.

Is there intelligent life in the Universe?

I dont see how anyone can argue there is no other intelligent life out there,

stated Angie. She cant fantom that in a never ending universe with billions of galaxies

and even more stars and planets that no other life formed. Mikeum and Cade were in

agreement with Angie. Bryce however feels that while there may be more life out there

he can accept that we are the only ones just because of how perfect the conditions have

to be for life.

Was the Universe created or did it just happen?

Angie and I both believe that there could be some divine creation that started and

organized everything and allows the process of evolution. Cade and the others do not

believe that there would be any creation and that the universe just happened. With that

topic, our discussion was complete.

This group discussion was interesting. To find out what more about what some of

my good friends know or think they know about our galaxy and universe as well what

they believe on the more unknown aspects of the universe. After having taken this

course and learning more about how our galaxy and universe as a whole works I think

we were able to have a more productive and educated conversation where any
speculations any of us had were able to be better fleshed out or understood and

expounded on. This course has helped me to better understand the universe and how it

governs itself and interacts with every other part of the universe. Knowing that we are

actively trying to find other life beyond our planet is exciting and stirs a hope that we will

one day meet another civilization.