Moby: Why I love space and astronomy

In this archive article from 2007, musician Moby reveals why we're all made of stars.

Published: March 15, 2022 at 8:57 am
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I grew up watching a lot of science fiction movies. I was a nerdy little kid, obsessed with science, but I ended up working in music instead.

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As much as I loved science, music affected me more emotionally and ultimately had a more powerful hold over me.

I’ve maintained an interest in science throughout my entire life, and I have a few different telescopes, including a Meade ETX-125.

The only problem is, a telescope in New York City doesn’t really accomplish all that much. It’s fun to look at things that are relatively close to us, but it’s difficult to observe deep-sky objects like galaxies and nebulae.

Musician Moby enjoys practical astronomy and stargazing. Photo: Michael Caulfield/WireImage
Photo: Michael Caulfield/WireImage

A full Moon is always quite spectacular to look at, and one of the good things about the Moon is that you can get a good view of it from an urban environment. It was also once part of the Earth, so I think we have a special kinship with it.

When Mars was particularly close to the Earth I would go to the house I owned upstate and get away from the light pollution to observe it.

The house was about an hour and a half north of New York City, and that’s where my telescope would get quite a lot of use. I would set it up on the deck with some simple optics and show people a few celestial objects.

The only thing that drove me crazy, and maybe I should have been a better amateur astronomer, was that in order to use the really sensitive optics, even the slightest vibration made it almost impossible to see what I was trying to look at.

So I had to stand there perfectly still, and if someone walked within even 50 feet of the telescope, the thing I was trying to look at would move around so much that I couldn’t see it.

New York City's light pollution can make it tough for downtown amateur astronomers. Credit: Photography by Steve Kelley aka mudpig, via Getty Images
New York City's light pollution can make it tough for downtown amateur astronomers. Photography by Steve Kelley aka mudpig, via Getty Images

We are all made of stars

We tend to live such provincial, Earth-bound lives, so what’s wonderful about astronomy is that it reminds us that we are just a tiny outpost in an inconceivably large galaxy.

There’s one Hubble Space Telescope image of a deep-space galaxy cluster – I have it on my computer desktop – and in this one image you can see about two or three hundred galaxies.

It amazes me that we’re looking at these galaxies – tiny from our perspective – but each one of them is so vast that we can’t even begin to imagine how big they are.

Galaxy cluster ACO S 295, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, F. Pacaud, D. Coe
Galaxy cluster ACO S 295, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, F. Pacaud, D. Coe

Each one is composed of billions and billions of stars, yet from our viewpoint they’re just these tiny points of light.

We Are All Made Of Stars was the first single from the album 18 and it’s also on my album Go – The Very Best Of Moby.

There were a few different motivations behind the song: I had written 18 and it was essentially finished, but I thought it needed one more song, so I wrote it quickly for the album.

It’s also representative of my lifelong love of quantum mechanics; and on a very rudimentary, literal level, all the matter in the Universe comes from stars.

Every element in the periodic table, except for hydrogen and helium, which formed in the Big Bang, came from stars.

On spaceflight

Space Shuttle Challenger in Earth Orbit on STS-7, 22 June 1983. Credit: NASA
Space Shuttle Challenger in Earth Orbit on STS-7, 22 June 1983. Credit: NASA

I went to NASA in Houston a few years ago, where I was given a tour of the site, including some interesting propulsion laboratories, and the opportunity to pilot a virtual Space Shuttle.

Then I did a seminar with a bunch of astronauts – and I was impressed. We tend to think of astronauts as people who just fly spacecraft, but they’re actually scientists who are also pilots.

Because room on the Shuttles is limited, to go up into space you have to be able to fly the spacecraft and do lots of experiments too.

To me they seemed to be physically and intellectually superhuman.

However, I have conflicting thoughts about whether NASA should be focusing their efforts on putting humans back on the Moon, and eventually Mars.

On the one hand, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to use uncrewed missions and control them from Earth.

An artist’s impression of the first astronauts and human habitats on Mars. What will 2021 bring to the table as NASA pushes forward for its first crewed mission to the Red Planet? Credit: NASA
An artist’s impression of the first astronauts and human habitats on Mars. Credit: NASA

I personally like the NASA ethos of lots of quick, cheap missions: the moment you try and put a human on a spacecraft it really complicates matters.

But at the same time, the thought of sending crewed missions back into space is very exciting.

I have some friends at NASA who are working on the colonisation of Mars, and I think it seems to be something that’s definitely achievable at some point in the next 15 to 20 years.

I’ve talked to Richard Branson about the possibility of going into space myself as a space tourist, and hopefully someday soon they’ll have a viable spacecraft to do this.

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But as much as I’d love to go into space, I’d have a hard time spending $200,000 [£102,200] just for a sub-orbital flight. So it might be something I’ll do one day. Right now I’m just focusing on my music.

Authors

Moby musician amateur astronomer
MobyMusician

Moby - real name Richard Melville Hall - is a musician and amateur astronomer.

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