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The Value of a Pale Blue Dot

This year, the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of a telescope, has been declared the International Year of Astronomy. The goal of the commemoration – to help the world’s citizens “rediscover their place in the universe” – now has the incidental benefit of distracting us from nasty things nearer to home, like swine flu and the global financial crisis.

Melbourne – The eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote: “Two things fill the heart with ever renewed and increasing awe and reverence, the more often and more steadily we meditate upon them: the starry firmament above and the moral law within.”

This year, the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of a telescope, has been declared the International Year of Astronomy, so this seems a good time to ponder Kant’s first source of “awe and reverence.” Indeed, the goal of the commemoration – to help the world’s citizens “rediscover their place in the universe” – now has the incidental benefit of distracting us from nasty things nearer to home, like swine flu and the global financial crisis.

What does astronomy tell us about “the starry firmament above”?

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