An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of March 2, 2007
issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve Headquarters in
Jalpan, Querétaro, MÉXICO

RUNNING TOWARD ALPHA CENTAURI

The road I jog on each morning before dawn is aligned north and south. When I'm heading southward, just above the mountaintops I can see two of the Southern Cross's four main stars. If I were on level ground or atop a mountain the whole constellation would be visible.

The Southern Cross's stars aren't particularly bright or colorful, and the constellation itself doesn't exactly mark the South Pole, but rather circles around it.

At this time of year, however, a couple of stars to the Cross's left really are bright, scintillating in the cool morning air, their brilliance cutting through mountaintop haze. After seeing these stars a few weeks it finally occurred to me to fire up my computer's star chart to see who those stars were. The brightest of the radiant pair of stars to the left of the Southern Cross was Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri! I remembered folks on Star Trek talking about Alpha Centauri but I'd forgotten why Alpha Centauri, of all the stars, gets mentioned so often. Therefore, I Googled it.

So, Alpha Centauri is part of the star system that's closest to our own star, the Sun, only 4.35 light-years away. It's not really the closest other star to us, but that's the way it's usually thought of. Also, it's said that if any other known star supports Earth-like life, Alpha Centauri is the best candidate. Finally, since from Earth Alpha Centauri is so far south that it's not visible in most of the Northern Hemisphere, it, like the Southern Cross, is something you look for when you go south, when you want to confirm to yourself that now you're WAY south.

As the name indicates, Alpha Centauri belongs to the constellation Centaurus. My sky program showed a galaxy in Centaurus called NGC5128. Using the same Google Image Search function, searching on the keyword "NGC5128 I" I came up with the amazing picture seen at http://www.mindspring.com/~dhanon/ngc5128.jpg.

To really get a blast from that image you need to first let it sink in that NGC5128 is a whole other galaxy. The stars in our night sky are members of our own galaxy, the Milkyway, but NGC5128 is another galaxy, one of billions and billions of others in the Universe, the stars in them often bigger than our own sun, but at this distance no more significant than molecules of a puff of gas wafting by... Think about it...

When I think about all this as I run toward Alpha Centauri on these starry mornings, often I reflect on my own process of learning about Alpha Centauri, how I came to see it in a mind-bending context, and sometimes when I'm thinking like this I decide that the Internet and other people-connecting media are making us humans into a new kind of animal.

For, these media don't just gratify our cravings for networking, for knowing more, for feeling like parts of a much greater thing, they also extend our senses, enlarge our thinking ambiance and -- at least in my case -- intensify our spiritual awareness.

We humans have always matured basing our development on what's been seen, heard and thought about, and now that process is profoundly expanded and speeded up, all in the context of a growing awareness of just how enormous, complex and majestic reality is. Maybe we've reached a certain threshold where educated humans can now evolve into something completely new, where our social and biological evolution will be more influenced by insight and resulting good will than by the consequences of warfare and disease.

Jogging just before dawn, Alpha Centauri and NGC5128 glimmer above the mountaintop and I run toward them hardly wanting to turn back, hardly wanting to divert my trajectory from these proofs of the grandness of things.

Yet... How beautiful to be a sweating, deep-breathing animal on this moist Earth thinking all these things, evolving into something new as I run through tropical air, azahar-perfumed, toward Alpha Centauri. Facebook Icon.