Published: November 2007
Timothy Ferris
Interview by Carolyn Fox
What is the source of your passion for sky-watching?

At age 9, I read, in a book titled A Child's History of the World, by a New England schoolmaster named V. M. Hillyer, that "long, long, long" ago, "there was no world at all!"

I found this astonishing, and have ever since. It meant that the world we live in was not the world but a world, a planet, and that if I wanted to understand it, I'd need to learn astronomy.

I got my first telescope in 1956, at age 12, and have been stargazing ever since.

What is your favorite Hubble Space Telescope discovery?

Hubble played an important role in the discovery of dark energy, a mysterious force that is accelerating the rate at which the universe expands. Although it is difficult to accurately assess the importance of scientific discoveries so soon after they have been made, I predict that this will prove to be one of the most important breakthroughs in the entire history of humankind's study of the universe at large.

While writing this story, was there anything that stood out to you in your research that you were unaware of before?

Mainly a sense of how rapidly the Hubble era is passing into history, as happens with all telescopes. Each piece of scientific hardware converts itself into knowledge, then fades away.

Any additional thoughts?

There was a time when people commonly questioned the wisdom of spending money on big-science projects like Hubble "when we have problems here at home." This happens less often now, I suspect because more people have come to understand that it is thanks to scientific research and other forms of free inquiry that hunger, poverty, and the incidence of warfare are declining worldwide.