Friday, October 8, 2010

Upended trees: with skyward roots...

It happened, a few days ago, waiting for the shipment of my first telescope ever. I took an old book of mine, dealing with astronomy thanks to sky maps and complete descriptions. It was given as a present to me when I was a child. At first I used it only a couple of times, since I was more interested in its fluorescent ink of the star charts than in the explanation of what the different regions of the sky contain... Later, it was enough for me to be able to recognize some constellation thanks to its sky maps...

This book, it was neither one of the ones which literally made me dream with eyes wide open, being responsible for the choice of my studies and for my fondnesses. This book simply was there, sometime flipped through, but never really read.
It happened that, for the first time, I ran into the words. And I found in the preface an idea which clarifies to me something I always felt gazing the stars.
It's true: the books are patient friends! These words waited for me on that page, only to come to me years later.

These words are by Hubert Reeves who I discover to be (God bless Wikipedia!) a French-Canadian astrophysicist and popularizer of science... with a likeable face. He wrote a simple remark on why it's worth to look at the sky, and how let us enter in harmony with the cosmic dance which is just in front of our eyes if we want to see it...

... the knowledge of the sky has also a further dimension, linked with Man's roots. The changes in lifestyle, caused by the pressing rythm of the technological advances, lead to a lack of identity in Contemporary Man. A reaction against this feeling of alienation caused by the present world it could be found in a renewed interest in regionalism. Everyone feels the need to belong to something. Man seeks desperately his own roots, even at the point to invent them.

Nowadays, one of the reasons of the popularity of astronomy stands, I think, in the link it shows between the Man and the Stars. Far from being extraneous to the Universe, as existentialists teach, the latest discoveries of astrophysics place us as a part of everything shines in the sky. We will owe forever to the stars, because inside them the very atoms that make the molecules of our eyes gazing them were created.

The feeling of belonging we need so much, it's given to us by astronomy in a way far more satisfying than by our history books. Before being French or Italian, black or white, male or female, we are earthlings, sunlings, people of the Milky Way, daughters and sons of the Universe. Our roots are in the stars.

This awareness is important for the human being as a whole. But it remains confined to the mind; it doesn't gain its actual dimension. It's required, nevertheless, that this awareness is proven with the physical observation of the sky. To rationality, has to be associated the emotion of find again the Orion nebula - star formation region - or Antares, generator of carbon and oxygen...

It's with this spirit I want to look at the sky. Always. This is why an humble dobson "cheap but yet good" is my ideal companion. It doesn't take nothing to let it hop from one star to another with the levity of a dancer. Without any claim, without any coordinate dial, without the noises of the go-to mountings, but humbly, silently, with all its limits, it stands underneath the night sky showing to me the wonders of the cosmos.
This is the point: let us be amazed. Let us be impressed. In the very same way our retinas do.