There were two things in my young life that got me thoroughly engaged and excited about science and astronomy. One, Carl Sagan, has been recently celebrated and written up all over the blogosphere by others greater than I – all I can manage is to point there way and say, “Yup… What they said.”
But in thinking back to watching Cosmos, I was reminded of that other source of excitement: Our Universe, published in 1980 by National Geographic.
I hadn’t seen the book in years, but I dug it out of a bookshelf in the basement to refresh my memory. It’s a large, square book, perfect for a coffee table. And when I was a kid, this book easily contained the greatest drawings and explanations of the universe than I’d even seen before.
I would flip back and forth between the pages for the different planets, comparing their sizes, masses, number of moons, ring shapes, and more. I even liked how the mythology got tied in to the planets as they showed drawings of the gods the planets were named after.
I remember the first time I heard that scientists had discovered more moons around Jupiter. I went back to Our Universe and just thought about that. Here’s this great book, only out for a couple years, and it’s already wrong! I thought that was so awesome.
There’s some really great science in here, too. A good graphic of how Mars appears to go retrograde; a picture of Saturn floating in an impossibly large glass of water, while Earth and Mercury sit like pebbles at the bottom; a discussion of how light spectra are used to determine the elemental makeup of a star; a description of how that brand spanking new Space Shuttle thingy will work; and plenty, plenty more.
Our Universe even got speculative at points, suggesting how life might exist on other worlds in our solar system — not suggesting that such life actually existed, but if you postulate that life does exist there, what would it have to be like to survive in that kind of environment. I loved those pages. It fired up my imagination. And that, dear readers, is part of what kept me interested.
The takeaway from this, for me, is how I plan to get my kids excited about science — just put it in front of them. I wasn’t beat over the head with Cosmos or this book, they were just there for the taking. Give kids these kinds of wonderful resources, and they’ll eat up it like candy-coated-candy. Science isn’t about textbooks, balancing chemical equations, free-body diagrams, cell mitosis, gravitational lensing, carbon-dating, or stuff like that.
Science is about imagination!
Science is about wonderment!
Science is about awesomeness!
It’s about letting your kids help you (not just watch you) put together their Galileoscopes and heading outside to look at the craters in the moon or moons around Jupiter. You don’t have to tell them to count how many they’ll see — they figure that out on their own!
Both Cosmos and Our Universe lit the fire for me. They taught me a lot, but they also made me excited about learning more. Let’s be sure we’re doing the same with our kids.