When you go to a remote telescope site, one of the things you’ll notice here and there are small piles of stones. Folks put them up when the visit as a way to mark their presence. “I was here.” they seem to say. “I’ve left my mark.” It’s not just astronomers that do this. Hikers, tourists and wayward travelers often make small piles of stones. It seems to be a very human activity. It’s what we do.
Astronomy and other sciences are much the same. For centuries we’ve studied the heavens, partly for the utilitarian purpose of tracking years and seasons, but also as a way to leave a mark. It seems to be a primal human urge to gather knowledge and pass it on. Of all the crazy things humans do, it seems to me that the drive to understand the universe is one of the most powerful.
It’s a spark of humanity that drives us to say “Here’s what I’ve learned about the universe. Here’s my pile of stones.”