One Day, If We Not Destroy Ourselves…

… we will venture to the stars. A still more glorious dawn awaits, not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise. The rising of the Milky Way.

The sky calls to us indeed.

These words are from the musical composition “A More Glorious Dawn” featuring the worlds of Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, arranged by melodysheep, AKA John D. Boswell. In his series of compositions entitled “Symphony of Science,” Boswell has certainly struck a chord with me. The tune runs through my head, like many an ear-worm. Over the past couple of weeks, however, it’s been running particularly deep.

At the end of May 2013 I had the privilege of spending a week or so in Arizona. The past six or eight months have been a time of rediscovery for me in several ways. I guess it all started with getting an old, dusty box out of storage in the fall. You see, my father was an engineer, and a very gentle man, and was fascinated with astronomy, and aircraft, and boats, and photography, and so many other things, too.

When I was little Dad bought what was for the time a quite good home telescope – a 4.5″ reflector marketed under the brand name Tasco. It had rather wobbly wooden legs, and the finish on the German equatorial mount wasn’t terribly impressive, and it only had little 0.95″ eyepieces. But it worked. It worked well to show the brighter planets and the moon to whomever wanted to take a look.

Although he never joined an astronomy club, my father loved to introduce people to our neighbours in the solar system with this white 4.5 incher. He was especially fond of taking the telescope up to the family cottage and showing the neighbours around. Today, nearly 20 years after his death, and likely 30 years after he had the ‘scope out of its box, friends at the cottage still talk with me about my Dad and his telescope.

I pulled the old ‘scope out of storage last fall. It had been sitting around its Styrofoam and cardboard carrier for a long time. Something seemed to grab me when I took it out of the box and set it up. I’ve now used the old ‘scope a few times, and have even coaxed it into taking a few photos… something I dreamed of years ago but never accomplished.

It touched off something, putting the telescope together, re-familiarizing myself with the mount and all of its details. It prompted me to start looking up again. And, it fueled the flaring passion for the sky that has resulted in several things. For one thing, this blog was borne out of that renewed passion. For another, I now have quite a fleet of home telescopes, something I fear needs a bit of trimming, actually. Too much of a good thing?

And all of this led me, last week, to a remote inn south of Benson, Arizona. Sitting down in a chair out in the desert, I looked up at the sky, and started taking images of the stars with a camera and tripod. And I listened again to “A More Glorious Dawn” on with my iPhone. I was feeling a bit lonely. I listened to Carl Sagan’s wonderful voice and powerful words. And I wondered once more what it’s all for.

And then I remembered the words in the film Cosmos, based on Sagan’s first-contact novel. In the story an alien that projects itself the image of the protagonist’s father states that in all of their exploration of the galaxy, the only thing that makes it all bearable is each other.

Thanks Carl. Thanks Dad.

Copyright © 2013 David Allan Galbraith
Advertisements

Some Lunar Landmarks in Science Fiction

The moon has often been the setting for great stories in science fiction, but only rarely have actual locations been depicted in some way. Usually a generic cratered, dusty surface suffices for “the moon” for any a film-maker. When I was growing up, two of my favourite visual science fiction depictions were Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s TV series Space: 1999, in production from 1975 to 1977. Not only did both make explicit reference to the year in which (some of the) events they portrayed took place, but they also at least made a nod to real lunar locations.

Three craters identified as locations in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Space: 1999. Photograph taken 25 October 2012, Hamilton, ON, with Sigma 150-500 mm telephoto lens and Nikon D7000.

Three craters identified as locations in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Space: 1999. Photograph taken 25 October 2012, Hamilton, ON, with Sigma 150-500 mm telephoto lens and Nikon D7000.

Two locations on the moon were settings for important events in 2001: A Space Odyssey, both in the rugged southern portion of the visible side of the moon. The story revolved around humans finding artifacts deliberately left behind millions of years ago, as tests for the evolution of a space-fairing culture. One of these monoliths was buried under the Crater Tycho (43° S, 11° W) and was given the name TMA-1, or Tycho Magnetic Anomaly 1. In the story, a strong magnetic field was detected in the area of the crater, prompting American astronauts to undertake some lunar archaeology. Near by, in the Crater Clavius (58° S, 14° W), the Americans had already established a large underground moon base – very handy! Both of these craters are real, prominent, and can be observed easily from earth.

It should also be noted that Russian’s future space efforts were not ignored in 2001: A Space Odyssey. During a short meeting with Russian scientists on board an earth-orbiting space station, Dr. Haywood Floyd finds out that the Russians are coming back to earth from their own base, Tchalinko,  in Crater Tsiolkovsky, on the far side of the moon.

The action in the British TV series Space: 1999 revolved around a group of people trapped on the moon when it was blasted out of orbit and into deep space by an enormous explosion, the result of a nuclear waste storage accident on the far side. Leaving aside that this the scenario poses monumental physics problems, it’s fun to note that the moon base in this program, “Alpha,” was apparently located in a real crater, Plato, at a lunar latitude of about 52° N, longitude 9° W. The location was not divulged during the episodes of the series, but the location was revealed during the second season by publicity produced by the studio, according to the web site “Space: 1999 Net” (http://www.space1999.net/catacombs/main/cguide/umext.html; The same article points out that there were somewhat conflicting references to lunar geography throughout the program. Clearly, some film-makers need to hire better technical advisors).

Tycho, Clavius and Plato are all worthy objectives for a backyard telescope. All three are also likely among the first craters that a novice lunar observer will get to know, and all are quite different. Tycho (86 km across) is a recent crater; the impact that produced the crater also produced the moon’s most prominent set of rays. Clavius (225 km across) is much larger and older – at around four billion years, the oldest of the three – and has been disrupted by more recent craters. Plato (109 km across) is a very flat crater, its bowl filled with dark lava in the same way that the lunar maria are. Only a few small craters break up its otherwise flat surface, which looks much like Mare Imbrium to the south.

There have been many more references to the moon in fiction, of course – but these are a couple of my favourites.

© 2012, David Allan Galbraith

Merry Christmas – a gift for the future

I cannot think of a more powerful message than that offered up by “Symphony of Science” (http://www.symphonyofscience.com/ – AKA John Boswell, AKA melodysheep) in their original music video, composed from the words of Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, in A Glorious Dawn. All of the work of this program, and this piece in particular, have captivated me since this past November, when I was introduced to them in a presentation on finding hope in a climate change universe, by Grant Linney.

My very low-cost present to you: enjoy, contemplate, be moved – and take action to help secure a positive, bright, and rational future for our children’s children’s children: