Prologue: Stellar Heart
Copyright © by Fiorella Terenzi, 10/3/03
more by & about Fiorella Terenzi at her websites http://www.fiorella.com/,
& listen to Fiorella guest on Omniversica's
Show # 9, recorded 9/10/03.]
I am five years old. I am walking hand-in-hand with my grandmother in the country outside of Milan. Our bare feet pad across the soft, damp grass. Along side us, my little dog, Birba, scampers excitedly. Suddenly, my grandmother halts and points above us to the heavens. "Guarda! Look!" she says. "That star! The brightest one -- she is looking
I laugh, but she goes on seriously. "Yes, piccola, all the stars have eyes to watch us. Look carefully!"
I do look carefully. And in that instant I feel the star gaze back at me.
I feel as if it is a stellar heart that beats with mine. For a moment, all the loneliness of my childhood evaporates. I feel a peacefullness, a oneness with all of the universe that I have never felt before.
"Remember this," my grandmother says. "Most people cannot look straight into a star's eyes. They are frightened and ashamed. But not you, Fiorella. You will always be able to feel the stars looking back at you."
I often think about that first extraterrestial gaze. How it made me quiver with awe. How it made me feel both like the center of the universe and like an invisible micro-dot lost in incomprehensible space. I felt both magnificently empowered by this magical array of stellar jewelry and terribly humbled by the infinite vastness of it all. At that moment, I knew
not a thing about quasars and black holes and brown dwarves; I did not even know that radio telescopes existed, let along that at one point of my life I would spend years "peering" through one. All I knew was that the sky had suddenly opened up to me and I would never be the same again. The first human must have felt something akin to this when she stepped out of her cave and turned her eyes skyward: shaken, empowered, humbled, mystified. What is this glorious display, this radiant cave ceiling that arches over the entire landscape? What is this firey ball that cruises across the sky by day? This pale crescent that rises from behind the mountains and follows me through the night? And that sudden streak of light
that leaves its ephemeral mark in the sky like a piece of chalk scratched against the cave wall -- what is that?
Am I a part of all of this? Can I ever know it? Does it know me? What does it tell me about my life? Can it show me how to construct my own internal universe?
For me, with astounding new cosmic discoveries occurring at observatories almost daily, these first questions remain the most profound questions astrophysics can ask. And yet somehow the sense of how I felt on that night with my grandmother easily fades from the professional astronomer's mind and heart, just as the sky fades from view when the lights of the cities emit an impenetrable pale curtain between earth and sky. We become blinded by a technological curtain of abstract mathematical theorums and complex astronomical machinery, and we forget to feel the wonder of infinite space. We fail to communicate with
loquacious celestial objects. We fall trap of believing that the only knowledge we can gain from the universe is objective facts and not poetic truths about our lives. We become deaf to the music of the spheres. And worst of all, we are afraid to look into the stars' eyes. Heavenly Knowledge is my attempt to bring this sense of wonder back to astronomy. I enthusiastically embrace the fabulous new discoveries of astrophysics, but I do not want to stop there. I want these discoveries to swim in our imaginations, to open our hearts to new ways of thinking and feeling about life, about men and women, about catastrophies and rituals. I want us all to hear how the music of the spheres resonates with the music of our hearts.
What others say of Fiorella Terenzi's book:
Amazon.com: "In this hip, metaphysical take on astronomy from the world's only internationally known astrophysicist/rock star, Dr. Terenzi brings to life a sensual universe."
Space.com: "Her recent book, Heavenly Knowledge (Avon Books), is far from a dry appraisal of astrophysics, humanizing cosmic phenomena by drawing comparisons between the nature of the universe and the human experience.
Cornell Daily Sun: "Fiorella is the MTV generation's alternative to Mr. Wizard ...In "Heavenly Knowledge" she draws from her vast background and personal experience to explore the universe and our place amongst the stars..."
[Prologue: Stellar Heart reprinted & excerpted from Heavenly Knowledge, by Dr. Fiorella Terenzi, HarperCollins/Avon Books]
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