Man's fascination with the stars began with the dawn of our species - and has been with us ever since.
The Astronomer, Vermeer, 1668
As Henry Van Dyke makes clear in the great poem below, our fascination has been for reasons religious, artistic and practical.
Stars and the Soul
by Henry Van Dyke
To Charles A. Young, Astronomer
"Two things," the wise man said, "fill me with awe:
The starry heavens and the moral law."
Nay, add another wonder to thy roll, --
The living marvel of the human soul!
Born in the dust and cradled in the dark,
It feels the fire of an immortal spark,
And learns to read, with patient, searching eyes,
The splendid secret of the unconscious skies.
For God thought Light before He spoke the word;
The darkness understood not, though it heard:
But man looks up to where the planets swim,
And thinks God's thoughts of glory after Him.
What knows the star that guides the sailor's way,
Or lights the lover's bower with liquid ray,
Of toil and passion, danger and distress,
Brave hope, true love, and utter faithfulness?
But human hearts that suffer good and ill,
And hold to virtue with a loyal will,
Adorn the law that rules our mortal strife
With star-surpassing victories of life.
So take our thanks, dear reader of the skies,
Devout astronomer, most humbly wise,
For lessons brighter than the stars can give,
And inward light that helps us all to live.
The world has brought the laurel-leaves to crown
The star-discoverer's name with high renown;
Accept the flower of love we lay with these
For influence sweeter than the Pleiades!
Perhaps the greatest work of pre-history, Stonehenge, was a carefully crafted observatory designed to mark the solstice. It was built of supreme effort by a people who had not yet mastered the written word.
And the night sky, in its beauty, has given given birth to countless paens in art and literature.
Starry Night, van Gogh, 1889
by Emily Bronte
Ah! why, because the dazzling sun
Restored our Earth to joy,
Have you departed, every one,
And left a desert sky?
All through the night, your glorious eyes
Were gazing down in mine,
And, with a full heart's thankful sighs,
I blessed that watch divine.
I was at peace, and drank your beams
As they were life to me;
And revelled in my changeful dreams,
Like petrel on the sea.
Thought followed thought, star followed star
Through boundless regions on;
While one sweet influence, near and far,
Thrilled through, and proved us one!
Why did the morning dawn to break
So great, so pure a spell;
And scorch with fire the tranquil cheek,
Where your cool radiance fell?
Blood-red, he rose, and arrow-straight,
His fierce beams struck my brow;
The soul of nature sprang, elate,
But mine sank sad and low.
My lids closed down, yet through their veil
I saw him, blazinig, still,
And steep in gold the misty dale,
And flash upon the hill.
I turned me to the pillow, then,
To call back night, and see
Your words of solemn light, again,
Throb with my heart, and me!
It would not do - the pillow glowed,
And glowed both roof and floor;
And birds sang loudly in the wood,
And fresh winds shook the door;
The curtains waved, the wakened flies
Were murmuring round my room,
Imprisoned there, till I should rise,
And give them leave to roam.
O stars, and dreams, and gentle night;
O night and stars, return!
And hide me from the hostile light
That does not warm, but burn;
That drains the blood of suffering men;
Drinks tears, instead of dew;
Let me sleep through his blinding reign,
And only wake with you!
The stars point towards the future of humanity. Is there anyone that doubts, a millenium from now, that we will have broken the bonds of our planet, our solar system, and perhaps even our universe.