Dare I say it could be interpreted as an event of the most profound cosmic meaning, a potential Rosetta Stone for the advance toward a common appreciation of both spiritual and scientific understanding? This is a leap, but let’s give it a try.
So, what were you doing on August 17, 2017? Unless it was your birthday or something of equal import to you, or unless you are an astrophysicist, you’ll probably have a hard time remembering. But in fact, in Planet Earth terms, that date may go down in history as among the most momentous ever for our understanding of this awesome universe in which we participate.
Notwithstanding the incredibly insufferable dumbing down in news reports of the event by especially local TV news even in our nation’s capital (“Oh my gosh, now we know where the gold in your wedding ring comes from!”), the event which took place 130 million years ago in a galaxy 130 million light years away, goes by the term, “kilonova,” the first ever seen by anyone on this planet.
As the brave report by Sarah Kaplan and Ben Guarino in the Washington Post Tuesday expressed, the combination of traditional astronomical visual research with the new capacity of the last couple years to detect “gravitational waves,” there are now new means to probe some of the most enduring mysteries of the universe, such as “the unknown force that drives the accelerating growth of the universe, the invisible matter that holds galaxies together and the origins of the Earth’s most precious elements.”
Quoting an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, with the new era of “gravitational wave astrophysics,” Earthlings are now “able to combine dramatically different ways of viewing the universe,” and “our level of understanding is going to leap forward as a result.”
So powerful was this event, the merger of two “dead” neutron stars involved “a violent collision shooting jets of radioactive matter into space,” including gamma ray bursts that “are the most energetic forms of light in the cosmos,” that it could be seen with only backyard amateur telescopes on Earth.
This event, according to the Post account, also may illuminate the nature of dark energy and dark matter, a “hypothetical substance that has mass but seems to emit no electromagnetic energy.”
Not a metaphorical association, but for the sake of argument we can say it’s akin to it, the illustrative “dance” of the two neutron stars with one another, which gained in speed and momentum as their orbits drew closer to one another to become one prior to the collision, shows how in our universe the merger of these elements generates a qualitatively different third reality, something filled with new light and matter.
How much is this like, in the arena of organic life on this planet as we know it, the act of giving birth?
Most religious symbology is built around the central roles of creative light and new life. Light and matter are the key substances of the divine, and they magnify and expand the universal holy force that is the cosmos’ creative soul.
Now we see in this week’s event what religious and spiritual points of reference may have been referring to for eons on this planet.
This is what makes the universe grow, to expand light and matter against the dark forces, and we intelligent Earthlings are a cutting edge phenomenon of that. Our minds and their incredible potential arise out of that.
What the astrophysicists saw this week was one birth of the infinite numbers of them that accounts for the universe, and for us.
This perspective, in my view, confirms an ultimate value and hopefulness for our strivings on this planet, for the substances that give and enhance life, such as love, empathy and compassion. Such are in concert with the most powerful, pro-life forces in the cosmos.
Fraudulent fundamentalist hocus pocus is discredited by this, and so also cynical nihilistic atheism, often couched in astrophysical terms.
Charlatan proponents of religious superstitions and atheists have been around from time immemorial. But so also a witness to the Creator of light and life to guide humanity forward.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.