Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My Mother's Understanding of the Universe

I just got off the phone with my mom. The conversation required tissues to dry the tears, not from crying, but from laughing. She told me that she saw a show on television about how Pluto is no longer a star and that people are protesting. Since Pluto has never been a star, but rather long considered to be a planet, this prompted me to ask her what the difference is between a star and a planet. (Keep in mind that I study Astronomy at Columbia University.) She told me that one has water on it and the other one doesn't. I started laughing, so she figured she must have been wrong and tried another guess. She said that people live on one and not the other. More laughter. She then said that one has gas and the other one doesn't and then that one rotates and the other one doesn't. I stopped laughing because the situation was just too sad. Was this really the extent of my mother's understanding of our solar system? Is this the way the general public sees the space beyond Earth's atmosphere?

I told her that there are rocky planets and there are gassy planets. We giggled at the word gassy. I told her that the Sun spins on its axis and the Earth spins on its axis while it revolves around the Sun. She was excited to hear something familiar and said, "I knew that!" I decided to ask her a little more about the Sun. She said something about this stuff that spews out of the Sun and somehow causes problems here on Earth. I said solar flares, and she said "that's it!" So then I decided to ask her what dark matter was. She said that it's a black hole, because it's dark in there. I almost peed my pants. I can't wait to tell Professor Applegate about this because it was just the other day that I was telling him how I felt like and idiot walking through the Astronomy department. I told him that I feel like I know nothing. At least now I know that I know way more than my mother does, and since I came from her, I have come along way from where I was.