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Nathaniel Bryant

12/05/2016
Elementary Astronomy
Prof. Galbraith
Astronomy Conversation Paper
I chose to have an astronomy conversation with my cousin, her husband, her step-brother,
and his wife. I chose them, because they are the only family I have in Utah and also, my cousin
is very opinionated and her husband is a good thinker and conversationalist. We spoke on the
afternoon of Friday, the 25th of November, and ended the recorded conversation at 4:26
P.M. The conversation lasted a little over an hour and took place around my cousin Staceys
family room dining table. My planning process for this assignment was fairly simple. About a
week beforehand, I warned my cousin that I would require at least an hour of her and her
familys time. I also took time to inquire about which subjects they would find interesting to talk
about during our conversation and I gained most of my insight as to the possible structure of the
conversation from these little sub-conversations. Based off of these insights, I devised many
questions to utilize throughout the discussion and keep everyone involved and interested.
Personally, I wanted to talk about time relativity in space and also of NASA and the
importance of space exploration, but decided the latter was a more plausible topic for discussion.
My cousin-in-law wanted to talk about the history of astronomy and why it has been important
for our growth as a society and people. My cousin wanted to talk of how, while they think
looking up at the stars and space and wondering what is out there is all well and good, it doesn't
necessarily effect their immediate sphere of influence, their family, and what they can control. I
took all of these questions and charted a basic course for our discussion.

Before we began the conversation, I wanted to make everyone as comfortable and content
as possible. I made hot chocolate and cut slices of pie for everyone. This was a strategic move on
my part and consequently made for a good start and allowed for an overall better experience. I
then began it. First off, I assured my group that this was simply a conversation about astronomy.
It wasn't a lesson or a lecture, and I wanted to make that clear to them, but I did emphasize that
we would need to keep the conversation focused and specific. I was then asked what astronomy
is and how it relates to astrology. We talked about this subject for a bit in the beginning, coming
to the conclusion that astronomy and astrology are pretty intertwined, but at the same time very
different. We talked of how astronomy is more science based and astrology is more cultural and
based off of peoples interpretations and imaginative observations. Something that surprised me
was how much I thought I knew about the stars, because of my appreciation of the sky, but how
little I actually knew of what we were talking about when it came to grounded facts and the
pressure was on me to deal out knowledge. I guess that is what happens when someone watches
too many sci-fi movies. Nevertheless, I did my best and we continued. After we spoke about
astronomy and astrology, the conversation naturally evolved to wonderings about the history of
astronomy and how it all began. While listening to the recording of the conversation, I realized
how incorrect I was in stating that, It has only been within the last couple of decades that we
have actually been able to truly observe the Universe and actually prove in a scientific way what
is actually out there. My cousins husband caught my mistake and corrected me by asking,
Well, when did astronomy start? What was the basis of astronomy? Realization dawned on me
that I spoke incorrectly and I kind of stumbled over an answer, but basically ate my own words
and began to speak about how, for the longest time, it was considered common knowledge to
think that we lived in an Earth-centered universe and that it was heresy to think otherwise. We

determined that astronomy started a long time ago, even if it wasn't actually called astronomy
back then.
We stayed in this topic of conversation for a while and we talked about how people used
to think the Earth was flat, the sky was a closed dome over our heads, and that people even
thought that the universe was just a 3D projection. However, I remembered Galileo and spoke of
his telescope. I also explained how he was one of the first scientists to propose scientific
observations that went against the norm by pushing the idea that we actually lived in a Suncentered universe. We also spoke of how we made the changes in approach to observations and
of how important it was to not just have observations, but true observations. For instance, I
couldnt remember the name at the time, but I explained Ptolemys Earth-centered model for the
solar system and how the observed course of the planets was very erratic and didnt make sense
until scientists put the Sun at the center. We even spoke of how sailors used the stars for
navigational purposes and how they needed factual observations to help them traverse long
distances. This led us to talk about the importance of astronomy to civilization and the growth of
that civilization since people needed to navigate to other lands by the stars in order to expand
their dominion and to help with trading purposes and commerce.
As we continued, these musings led us to thoughts about the importance of astronomy in
present day as well. We talked about how we needed to have the option of NASA looking for
habitable worlds, for us to expand to, as a sort of backup plan for us to continue to exist if our
Earth were to face imminent destruction, whether by our own hand or by outside threats. While
my cousin believed we should focus our efforts and resources on maintaining our Earth and
keeping it healthy, others, myself included, agreed that we should do all we can to take care of
our precious Earth, but at the same time, not limit ourselves to it. I proposed that by

appropriately funding NASA, we were creating opportunities and alternatives for our species to
survive our Earth. Concerning the importance of space exploration, my cousin maintained that,
Like weve said, its humbling, its neat, but it doesnt affect me, my family, or our daily lives.
There might be other life, but I feel like we could put that money towards cancer research or
feeding the hungry or housing the homeless. I find it a bit hypocritical that they are searching so
hard for signs of life and yet they completely disregard life here on Earth. There were many
opinions encouraging the importance of both approaches and we ended with a greater
understanding of both sides of the space exploration funding argument. I tried to sum up that
argument by saying, Its all about balance. You want to be grounded and care about the things
that matter most to you, but also then you have to think about how our Sun is 4.5 billion years
old and it is projected to last 10 billion years and when you have that perspective its likewhat
am I even doing here? And yeah that mentality is not really important when your kids being
bullied or they arent doing well in school so its likewhats the point of that perspective?
Theres no point at all in that moment so you just have to find that balance as far as space
exploration is concerned. Its hard to tell if space exploration is even yielding any results. Is there
any practical purpose to what we are doing? We decided that there are multiple approaches to
astronomy and that all are valid and important in their own way.
We talked about many more things, but the gist of our conversation stayed within the
walls of these aforementioned topics. Pondering back on the conversation, I realized that,
unfortunately, my plan didn't go according to how I originally wanted, which was fine and
required me to adapt a little bit, but my cousin simply wasn't that in to the conversation and the
groups questions were a bit sporadic, but I tried to keep us on course as best as I could. The
others were very into the conversation. My cousins step-brother spoke of how he loved these

types of chats and this kind of material. His wife kept trying to bring our focus to a more
religious orientation, but I always brought it back to a more factual approach. My cousins
husband was very knowledgeable and enjoyed sharing his opinions and the facts that he knew.
Something that surprised me about the conversation was how it took a life all on its own.
While I tried to keep us on track, inspiration and curiosity took us all over the place and
along avenues that I hadn't even considered. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience. However, if
I were to do this assignment again, there are a few things I would do differently to improve the
flow of learning and understanding. Firstly, I would formulate an all-encompassing theme or
thesis to keep us on track more and to have a genuine question be answered at the end rather than
skipping around from multiple topics of discussion without a determined finality note. And
lastly, I would put on some type of spacey music in the background for ambience. Other than
that, I wouldnt change much else about the occasion.