Bad Astronomy

Fifteen years

I’m not one to celebrate anniversaries and such; to me they seem a little bit arbitrary. But still, they do remind us how far we’ve come, and how far there is left to go, so a moment’s reflection may not be a bad thing.

On March 21, 1993 – fifteen years ago today – I wrote my very first webpage.

I was in graduate school at the University of Virginia, heading into my last year on my PhD research. I had just watched the local news, and they had done a story on kids in an elementary school standing eggs on end on the vernal equinox. I was flabbergasted that any actual journalist could report such a thing so credulously, so the next day I wrote up a few paragraphs and stuck it on my personal web-accessible directory on the astronomy department’s server.

You have to realize, in 1993 there wasn’t a web as such. There were only a few sites out there, and people used Mosiac to browse them. I thought “hyperlinking” was so cool, and being able to put an image on a page… well, wow! Welcome to the future!

That page I wrote still exists, though it has changed almost entirely in the intervening 15 years. It sparked an entire career for me, though at the time it was a frivolous time-waster for me. But it eventually grew into more pages, got plagiarized quoted on “The West Wing”, landed me a picture on APOD, led to a book, a blog, a series of TV interviews, another book, and eventually to settle in Boulder, Colorado, where I am far happier than I ever thought I could be, or ever deserved.

Walking this path also led me to encounter an extraordinary number of extraordinary people. Sure, there’s Randi and Penn and others you’ve heard of, and many folks who have honored me with their friendship and who have supported me. But I hear from people every single day, curious people, people who want to know about the Universe, about reality, and somehow they’ve had their minds sparked by something they saw here. That’s you! I cannot express what it means to have so many people reading what I write. It’s any writer’s dream to simply be read, and I thank all of you for taking time to stop by here and fulfill that. That surprises me and astounds me and moves me almost beyond words.

And even then, it gets better. Just yesterday a young woman befriended me on Facebook, and said that due in part to my blog, she decided to go back to school and take astronomy classes. I’ve gotten a few emails like that, and there are no words in the English language to properly describe the emotions that invokes.

Sure, I’ve also made some enemies along the way. People who have their world-views shaken tend not to be appreciative of it, and just as obviously those who prey on the innocent would rather not have someone show everyone the charlatan behind the curtain. But those are enemies I don’t mind having. Anyone who wants the shadow of ignorance to be deeper and darker is someone who is the enemy of us all. It’s our duty to fight them.

Still… Fifteen years. Wow. I never would have suspected back in ‘93 that sitting down and venting my spleen would lead to this. It’s been a lot of work, fun work! But the important fact here is that you just don’t know where a hobby, a moment of indulgence, a lark, will lead.

If you get that chance, if you find yourself (or someone you know) facing one of those moments, jump on it! It might be a terrible decision, sure. Being alive at all is a risk, but the best stuff comes when you take a chance. That decision might turn out to change your whole life, and make you very happy, very satisfied, and very, very ready to continue on for another fifteen years. At least.