The Astronomers

Looking at this vast natural drama from their observation posts on the minute planet Earth as it revolves around the insignificant star called the sun, a handful of astronomers seek to gain an understanding of the cosmos. Using instruments constructed from materials found on their planet, they follow the activities in space from their observatories and launch rocket-borne telescopes from Earth. Some people confuse them with astrologers, but astronomers reject all such notions of kinship; others look up to them because their thoughts and ideas move in realms beyond the imagination of those of us engaged in everyday activities. Their work brings them a step closer to creation, at least to the creation of the uninhabited world, but they are sober scientists who do not attempt to adduce ethical norms from the phenomena they observe. Their involvement with cosmic matters does not make them better human beings. They are not motivated solely by a dedication to greater knowledge. As is true of other segments of human society, thoughts of competition and career advancement enter into their calculations; quite a few discoveries grew out of just such considerations. Yet this is not to deny, as we shall learn, that we find among them a passion for knowledge and much friendly cooperation. The fruit of their research is the work of human beings and as such is often imperfect, even erroneous. But despite setbacks the course of the science of astronomy, beginning with the Babylonians and culminating in modern astrophysics, has led ever forward.

Rudolph Kippenhahn, 100 Billion Suns p. 6-7