Science Writing

The Stories We Tell About the Stars

Space and the stories we tell about it are an integral part of our identity as humans.

From paintings on the walls of caves like Lascaux to songs and stories passed down through countless generations of different cultures, it seems as though humanity has always been obsessed with the stars.

Over our evolution as a species the night sky has become an integral part of our collective identity as humans. Yes, there are countless different interpretations of the stars and what they mean for different people and different cultures, but regardless of the specifics, they are a common thread that binds every one together.

What is it about them that holds our fascination to this day?

Governments and private companies have invested millions upon millions of dollars into space exploration, both manned and unmanned, in recent years and the trend only seems to be increasing.

Recently two billionaires jetted into space (though, the definition of where the edge of space begins is contested) in what can only be described as the worlds most expensive phallic measuring contest. But egotism and vanity aside, the launches represent how far humanity has come since staring up at the stars thousands of years ago.

For a millennia the stars were considered a mystical place. The celestial home of gods, goddesses, creatures and other mythological creations. Humans found wonder in the stars because they were inexplicable.

We didn’t know what they were, why they were there or what they meant. We invented stories to explain them and convinced ourselves they were true.

Until roughly five hundred years ago the majority of humans believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, not just in a metaphorical sense, either. It was taught that everything revolved around the Earth until Copernicus published his heretical idea that the Sun was in fact at the center, and the Earth revolved around it.

The relentless march of science only grew until the mystical veil was peeled back almost all of the way.

The stars aren’t the glittering eyes of gods or lost souls staring down on us. They are burning balls of gas, light years away, held in a delicate balance between gravity and nuclear fusion.

And yet despite the depths that we’ve plunged to, despite the knowledge we have collected about the sky above us, there are gaping holes in our understanding of the universe.

We recently photographed a black hole.

The Event Horizon Telescope, a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration, captured this image of the supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy M87 and its shadow.
The first ever photograph of a black hole by the Event Horizon Telescope. Credit: EHT Collaboration.

And we know more about these incredible phenomenon as a result. But we don’t know everything about them. In fact we have barely scratched the surface.

Knowing more has done nothing to reduce the mystical nature of the sky. The fact we understand the physics behind stars hasn’t satiated our everlasting need to look up and to wonder.

We still tell stories about the stars. Some that are the same as they were thousands of years ago, and others that are not.

Our stories are still important. To billions of people the stars are a place of special significance, whether it is to their culture or to them personally.

Knowledge and exploration don’t take away from this. I believe they enhance our stories by expanding our horizons, increasing the canvas that the human mind has to paint with.

Our stories have always been the driving force behind our curiosity. They are the reason we put the effort into walking on the Moon, landing rovers on Mars. Our stories, all of them, have collectively contributed to humanities yearning to find out more, to discover why.

If we continue to tell each other stories, to believe in them, and in turn fuel our curiosity, there is no limit to what we can discover in the stars.

I hope to write more about the relationship between stories and space in the future.

2 comments on “The Stories We Tell About the Stars

  1. I love space, and I love writing about it in my stories, even though I don’t know much, and your story has added to my inspiration, so thank you for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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