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Our Place in Space: This week on Storyteller's Night Sky

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James Webb Space Telescope
Images such as this one from the James Webb Space Telescope, carefully derived from infrared data, push us well beyond current concepts of space and time, and may ask of us to be more fully human as the known world continues to expand.

Historically, an understanding of the stars can be divided into three periods: from the ancient era of humanity to the scientific revolution of the middle ages; from that revolution to the 20th century; and from the 20th century to the present.

In ancient cultures, star knowledge was informed by the idea that every human being comes from a star, and that after a fruitful life on the earth, each one would return to their star. This star journey was scripted across the sky in the motion of the planets and constellations ~ a speaking of divine celestial beings. This is was the astro-logos, or star word, now regarded as astrology.

Then came the scientific revolution and the ideas of Nicolas Copernicus and Isaac Newton, which set the earth in motion about the sun and reduced the idea of divine spiritual beings to universal motion, governed by measurable laws. This was the time of the astro-nomia, the body of knowledge derived from measuring the distances and periodicity of celestial objects, their atmospheric, surface, and core composition, among other things.

In the early 20th century, a third period began, though perhaps still little known, which is referred to as an astro-sophia, a star wisdom that would cultivate the moral nature of being human in the face of the rapid discoveries being made now we have moved well into the age of technology. An astrosophy would ask the question: how does the human moral nature keep pace with and inform machine-learning and artificial intelligence? How do we stay central to our concepts about our place in space? This is not a matter of being physically at the center, nor is it about being insignificant in the grand scheme. It is about ennobling the human being such that we recognize our essential role in our environment, which includes everything from the ground beneath our feet to the furthest reaches of the stars.

Mary Stewart Adams is a Star Lore Historian and host of “The Storyteller’s Night Sky.” As a global advocate for starry skies, Mary led the team that established the 9th International Dark Sky Park in the world in 2011, which later led to her home state of Michigan protecting 35,000 acres of state land for its natural darkness.