West Texas Wonders:
Does Looking At Distant Galaxies Give Astronomers A More Chill Perspective On Life?

By Sally Beauvais

Deana Haggag — who visited Marfa from Chicago with a group of friends late last year — has almost always lived in big cities. And the night sky in West Texas left a big impression on her.

“I remember that I had never seen stars like that in my life,” she said.

Haggag and her friends went to a Star Party at McDonald Observatory — where they ended up staying late and spending some one-on-one time with the guides. As they looked up into the Milky Way from the Davis Mountains, staff told the group about galaxies billions of light years away.

The Milky Way (Mario Olmos via Flickr/Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0)

“And that’s where my brain kept being like, ‘Oh my goodness, if this is the universe you’re in, and this is how you think about time and space and the relativity of it all, what is it to even think about earth at all?'” Haggag said.

She was left wondering if everything that happens in the world feels really inconsequential to astronomers, compared to the scope of the universe.

“We were in the parking lot, there was barely a car left at that point, and the four of us just sat in silence,” Haggag said. “And I’m pretty sure that’s when I popped my question.”

Do astronomers have a more chill perspective on life — since they spend their time looking at distant galaxies?

Marfa Public Radio interviewed astronomers working on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory to find out. Listen to the audio at the top of this page to find out about their life philosophies, and their work to better understand one of the universe’s biggest mysteries: dark energy.

About Sally Beauvais

Sally Beauvais reports on rural issues in Far West Texas. She also runs Marfa Public Radio's engagement efforts.
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West Texas Wonders is a storytelling initiative from Marfa Public Radio that invites you to take part in the stories we cover. Visit marfapublicradio.org/curious for more information.