It costs about $57,000 to operate one of the big telescopes for a night. What could be done for humanity, with a capital H, on a week’s budget?
With the massive costs involved in the study of the stars, astronomers and the entities principally concerned like NASA and the European Space Agency are often asked to justify themselves, or at least to deliver back into the economy rather than be a drain on available resources.
Time after time scientists have come out to justify this branch of science. What does it do for us? Why should we continue to fund it?
How do you justify knowledge?
The problem for many who are trying to justify their search for scientific answers to the great existential questions is that it is so obvious to them. The need for answers to questions like why are we here, or even more interestingly why here and not anywhere else, is so obvious they can’t posit a theory which a skeptic would buy?
The result is that they justify their work in terms of by-products, or serendipitous discoveries where one thing came about as a result of another; CAT scanners and cell phone cameras being oft-quoted examples.
But there is a case for knowledge for its own sake…
Astronomy has the advantage of being an empirical science. Since the very beginning, it has been based on mathematical and geometrical measurements. Had it been on a hunch then navigation could take us anywhere, and potentially not to the same place twice. Measuring time could be an arbitrary concept and not something that is agreed on the world over. Flat-earthers could continue in their belief… oh, wait!
…and we are interested in the answers
In the US alone, we make 28 million visits annually to planetariums. Around 10% of all college students (¬200,000 people) take Astronomy as a foundation to further science courses. More Americans watched the last solar eclipse than watched the Super bowl. To really put the number into context 88% of the American adult population found a way to watch what happened as the planets passed by.
The last blood moon had millions of watchers across the world posting their ET-like images or images of the massive moon against familiar backdrops and landmarks. The world is interested in the fundamental questions that Astronomy asks and for the main part, we are not looking for an economic justification rather we would like an answer to the questions.
This is the only way in which we can explain our love affair with the stars. We, as a species, are genuinely interested. People want to understand the scientific basis for Science Fiction films and let’s face it, we’d all prefer to be beamed somewhere than catch a plane.
Maybe those who do want an economic justification need to get on the bandwagon
Perhaps the nay-sayers need to realize that the appetite for Astronomy is alive and well. Maybe they could give up fake news instead?