Our world never ceases to amaze

Published 5:27 am Monday, August 25, 2008

By Staff
Science stories fascinate me more than news stories. Maybe it's because there was a time I fancied a future in a science related career.
In eighth grade, it was archeology that caught my attention and I imagined solving great mysteries by digging for answers buried in the ground. Then there was my interest in astronomy, fueled when Daddy set up his telescope in the backyard and introduced us to the wonders of the night sky.
I didn't become an archeologist or an astronomer, but the ideas, the possibilities of science remained a thing of awe. Two stories I read recently set me to thinking about the mysteries that remain and those dreamers who are out there chasing them.
The first story was about a hunt for dinosaur bones in the Sahara that turned into the discovery of the largest known graveyard of Stone Age people. What archeologists found was something they didn't expect – remnants of a society that lived when this desert was green and lush.
One grave was a triple burial site where they discovered a woman lying on her side facing two children whose arms reached toward her in an eternal embrace. Another was the grave of a young girl buried wearing a bracelet carved from a hippo tusk.
These discoveries offered clues about what the area was like when these people lived there. In the first, the presence of pollen told archeologists that flowers decorated the grave. The bracelet meant animals lived there that don't live there now that it is a desert. Both sites show that the world these people inhabited and probably thought would never change is a much different place today. By looking to the past, scientists hope to learn more about the present and about how things could change in the future.
The second story described astronomers trying to learn about existence beyond the boundaries of our planet. With equations that I can't begin to understand, they seek to explain the spaces between stars and galaxies, to know what is happening in the big picture of our existence.
They search to solve the mystery of “dark energy,” to learn more about the beginnings of the cosmos and to imagine what the future may hold for our universe.
Or to put it the way the writer explained it, “Hoping to understand why the universe seems to be coming apart at its seams, a young astronomer and his colleagues have embarked on one of the oldest quests in cosmology, to measure how fast the universe is growing, how big it is and how old it is.”
Reading the second story, I thought about the first and about how we continue to look backward, forward and outward to answer questions about our existence.
We know we exist in a changing environment, whether it is from the view of an expanding cosmos or looking to the past and how it differs from the present.
The scientists who discovered the ancient burial ground drew the conclusion, “that nothing, not even the arid expanse of the Sahara, was changeless.”
As I thought about that it occurred to me that there is another place to look for our answers, one I didn't think too much about when I fantasized about my life as a scientist or astronomer, but one I find more interesting as I get older.
Perhaps we should explore the place where we will make the greatest discoveries about ourselves, the place where we find the answers to all the questions, and where no advanced education or complicated equations are required.
Just maybe, the answer to our seeking is so simple that it confounds even the wisest among us because it requires only that we look inside and discover the wonder of being alive in this moment.
Now that expedition is surely as exciting as any archeological dig I dreamed about in eighth grade.
Nancy Blackmon is a columnist for The Andalusia Star-News.