By Tom Murphy:
Yellowstone is a wonderful place to watch the stars because there is little or no ambient human light to clutter up the dark sky. Looking south in the middle of the night our Milky Way Galaxy extends from the horizon up into the sky and across to the north. Our personal star that we call the sun, and our seven companion planets that circle with us around our star, is located in one of the outer arms of a group of stars we call the Milky Way Galaxy. Most of the stars we see with the naked eye are our neighbors in our hometown, the Milky Way. Our galaxy is a spiral disc of nearly 200 billion stars spinning around a black hole. Our home galaxy is a small one in a clump of about 25 galaxies called the Local Group. The closest neighboring galaxy is the Large Magellanic Cloud, 160 million light years away, visible in the southern hemisphere.
Beyond our Local Group, with telescopes, we see billions of other galaxies each containing billions of stars. The more we look with more powerful telescopes, the more we see, extending our knowledge out to unimaginable distances, through billions of years of history where stars form, reform, and travel across this unimaginable space. It is estimated that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the earth.
German chemist Robert Bunsen and physicist Gustav Kirchhoff in 1859 invented a technique called spectral analysis which is the study of the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation. This technique opened up the field of astrophysics because by measuring the spectra of objects we can determine the chemical and physical properties of astronomical bodies including temperature and velocity which allows astronomers to understand the nature of distant celestial phenomena. Bunsen Peak, near Mammoth was named in honor of Bunsen’s work toward understanding geyser activity. His greater contribution to understanding the entire universe should be honored as well.
When you are sitting quietly on a hillside in Lamar Valley, remember that the earth is spinning to the east at 900 miles an hour and at the same time is flying in orbit around the sun at ninety miles a second. Our star and its planets are moving at about a million miles a day circling around the center of our galaxy every 200 million years. We are going someplace in the dark cold abyss of space but we don’t know where and it doesn’t matter really. Don’t worry if you feel a little dizzy sometimes. We need to concentrate on taking care of our tiny little round blue and white marbled speck of glorious life and beauty. We need to treat all of our neighbors from bacteria to the blue whales with kindness, consideration, generosity, and humility.