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Everything Looks Perfect From Far Away

March 4, 2009 on 1:24 pm | In Astronomy |

This morning, I was driving to work and the song Such Great Heights by Iron and Wine came on my iPod; click the play button below to listen while you read.

But I was listening to the lyrics, and one line from the chorus has been haunting me all day:

They will see us waving from such great heights
“Come down now,” they’ll say
But everything looks perfect from far away
“Come down now,” but we’ll stay

Why would this haunt me? Because it’s so simple and so true, and really encapsulates in just six words what’s so beautiful about astronomy. Take a look at the Moon up close, with all of its craters, gullies, mountains, and imperfections:

Versus how perfect it looks from far away:

And the same is true for any star, such as the Sun, which has a flaring, intricate, spotted surface when you view it up close, but looks like a perfect point (or sphere) of light from far away:

And this is true for even galaxies, which look like an intricate mess up close, full of stars everywhere, dust lanes, voids, star-forming regions, etc. (just look at our own):

But, again, look so simple and perfect from far away:

And this is even true for the large-scale structure of the Universe. You look at where things are up close, and you find regions where there are many galaxies, and then vast regions where there are none, and it looks like a complicated mess:

But if you stood outside of our Universe and looked in on it, it looks almost smooth and perfect, like an ultra-fine web of light and matter, from far away:

Maybe I just like standing back and enjoying the view. Maybe I needed some lighter fare after yesterday’s article about ethics. But this has been profound enough that it’s been in my head all day, that everything looks perfect from far away. Enjoy the view.


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  1. The postal service did an amazing cover of this song, such a pretty song!

    Comment by Andrew — March 5, 2009 #

  2. The Postal Service did the original! The Iron & Wine version was a cover; I just happen to like it better.

    Comment by ethan — March 5, 2009 #

  3. I learned something new today!

    Comment by Andrew — March 5, 2009 #

  4. Isn’t there perfection in the chaos of the universe?

    Comment by dave — March 5, 2009 #

  5. The Universe is a sponge. I like it.

    Cue George Hrab.

    Comment by Sili — March 6, 2009 #

  6. […] repeat that: Galileo never actually did his most famous experiment! Go to such great heights and try it for […]

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