Posted by: gcarkner | September 2, 2012

An Amazing Treat: Dr. Danielson

“An Amazing Treat”

Dennis Danielson

Ten years ago I attended a lecture by UBC astronomer Mark Halpern, a member of the team operating the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (W-Map for short). W-MAP is the cosmology project that since the beginning of this millennium has shown our universe to be 13.75 billion years old. (NASA’s astonishing short list of what W-MAP has achieved can be viewed at:

At the end of Mark’s talk, he struck a reflective pose. “And just think,” he said. “We might have found ourselves on a planet with continuous cloud cover. Almost everything astronomers know about the universe depends on our being able to see beyond earth’s atmosphere. It didn’t have to be like this. Isn’t that special?” More recently he has remarked, “It’s an amazing treat that the dynamics of the universe have been printed on the sky for all to see.”

Perhaps for some, an astronomer getting all misty-eyed about clear skies might evoke merely a shrug: “Duh! How obvious!” But I’d suggest that deep meditations on the obvious—like Mark’s acknowledgment of something amazing about our world—is in fact a vital precondition of any truly meaningful and satisfying study or investigation.

Two centuries ago, the poet Coleridge wrote that “Truths of all others the most awful and mysterious … are too often considered as so true, that they lose all the life and efficiency of truth, and lie bed-ridden in the dormitory of the soul.”

I think both Halpern and Coleridge are right. For me, among the most energizing, awesome, and mysterious truths are those we often simply take for granted: “We can observe the heavens.” “There is something rather than nothing.” “I, though small, am part of the universe.” “We humans have the ability to ask what it all means?”

What other “awful and mysterious” truths would you add to this list?

Dr. Dennis Danielson, Department of English, UBC (profile)

See his books:

The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking. Edited by Dennis Richard Danielson. [Includes 40,000 words of critical commentary by the editor and 14,000 words of original translations from Latin, German, French, and Italian.] Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2000. xxxvi + 554 pp. [Short-listed for the Canadian Science Writers Association “Science and Society” Book Award, 2000. Named to the Editor’s Choice Top Ten Books on Science for the year 2000.]

The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution. New York: Walker & Co., 2006. 264 pp

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