Origins of the Universe

December 8, 1971

Report Outline
Challenge of New Image of Cosmos
Man's Expanded Vision into Space
Clashing Theories About the Universe
Special Focus

Challenge of New Image of Cosmos

Unprecedented Pace of Discoveries in Astronomy

Unprecedented discoveries in astronomy are causing an upheavel in man's conceptual framework of the universe. It is not by accident that, in man's search for the nature of matter, he is making astounding breakthroughs simultaneously in the fields of particle physics, molecular biology and astronomy. Not since the days of Johannes Kepler, who was born four hundred years ago, Dec. 27, 1571, has the layman been challenged by such an extensive re-orientation of his ideas. Kepler, working with the first telescopes, was able to put forward his laws of planetary motion which displaced the Earth from its assumed central position in the solar system.

Today, astronomers using artificial satellites and electronic detectors have been able to extend the range of observation well beyond the capabilities of the optical telescope into the world of the newly discovered quasars and pulsars. For the first time, man himself has stepped beyond the confines of his own planet, bringing back information which is casting new light on—if not entirely penetrating—some of the mysteries of a small corner of the universe, the solar system. Space probes by the United States and Russia since the late 1950s, including the manned lunar landings of 1969 onward, not only have offered a view of Earth from another vantage point but also have whetted popular and scientific appetites for further understanding of the universe.

Mars is currently being orbited by unmanned space vehicles relaying data to Earth so scientists can try to determine, among other things, if some form of life might actually exist on this planetary neighbor. So far, indications are that Mars is even more inhospitable to life than was previously believed. And yet, an American biologist has written, “we are too uncertain about the past history of the planet and about the conditions needed for an origin of life to dismiss the possibility out of hand.” The discovery of organic molecules in interstellar space, far beyond the solar system, has added weight to scientific speculation about the possibility of life existing elsewhere in the universe.

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