Edgar Mitchell, who was in orbit with the Apollo 14 lunar module while his companions explored the lunar soil, describes how he saw Earth, Moon and Sun passing by every two minutes or so, and how the study of astronomy and cosmology, where he learned that all the matter in the solar system, including ours, “was prototyped in some ancient generations of stars,” that is, it originated from stars that exploded billions of years ago, gave him a profound sense of unity with the totality of the cosmos, a feeling that can only be described as awe. “One of those words that you have a better understanding of when you see it too,” said Nicole Stott.
In researching my latest show, I’ve read a lot about Galileo. His astronomical findings were key in demonstrating that the sun didn’t move around the earth, as had been thought for the past 1500 years. It took over 200 years to finally prove Galileo was right, but the shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric universe started with him.
I was surprised and please to discover that Galileo met John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, an epic poem in which Milton attempts to explain the cosmos via literature (and is the source for one of my favorite series, the His Dark Materials trilogy, by Phillip Pullman, the title of which is a reference to the poem.) Even better, this 2008 article about their meeting by Jonathan Rosen for the New Yorker, touches on all 3 of my show topics: cosmology, love, and disaster.
First, some background on their meeting:
Sometime in 1638, John Milton visited Galileo Galilei in Florence. The great astronomer was old and blind and under house arrest, confined by order of the Inquisition, which had forced him to recant his belief that the earth revolves around the sun, as formulated in his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.” Milton was thirty years old—his own blindness, his own arrest, and his own cosmological epic, “Paradise Lost,” all lay before him…
Beyond the sheer pleasure of picturing the encounter—it’s like those comic-book specials in which Superman meets Batman—there’s something strange about imagining these two figures inhabiting the same age. Though Milton was the much younger man, in some ways his world system seems curiously older than the astronomer’s empirical universe.
[All quotes via Return to Paradise : The New Yorker.]