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Looking At Familiar Things

Lost in the Stars

Recently there was a change n the Galaxy with the designation M82. The designation means it was one of the galaxies that Messier cataloged. Which means that it is a kind of blurry thing that can be seen in the constellation Ursa Major (which has the Big Dipper in it), so this is an area of the sky that people look at a lot. The galaxy is a bright one.

Well this year (2014) some amateur astronomers in Russia saw something different. It had a bright spot. It was a supernova. A group of students in Britain looked back at some pictures they had made of the same galaxy and they discovered that they had pictures of the supernova even earlier than the Russians had.

This just shows how important it can be to keep looking at things we think we know. As a bird watcher I’ve experienced this first hand. Even when you think that you know a species, you should go ahead and observe the bird anyway. I was in a forest in Oklahoma (which is kind of rare) and saw a hummingbird. Watching it for a moment with a friend its behavior seemed odd. Watching for a bit longer we saw that it was actually darting in to a bee hive and scoring a bit of honey.

Looking at things you think you know is hard, but it can really pay off. One of the skills that artists have is to look at things that we all think we know; and, rather than just accept what it is we believe to be true about the things we look at, they see what’s actually there and recreate it in whatever medium they use.

Like Sherlock Holmes said, “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” Most of the time our brains make assumptions, shortcuts, so we can spend time thinking about the things that we think are important. Sometimes we have to take time and actually see what’s going n around us. Sometimes it’s not what we think is going on and we get to experience something wonderful and new.

Take some time this week and look around, and try not to make assumptions. See what’s really out there. Are the mountains actually the color you thought they were? What color are the clouds really? Do you know the number of wind turbines that can be seen from your house (don’t forget the little ones)? How many steps are here between your car and the door to your house? Take the time and see the world.

If you would like to let me know what you think, send me an email at [email protected]. If you would like links to additional information visit my blog at http://mathnerde.blogspot.com/.