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Why Astronomy?



Hello, bienvenue and welcome to my little blog. Pull up a chair and make yourself at home. This is a place for observations, thoughts, musings and meanings probably loosely about astronomy, and the universe as a whole. 

Firstly, a little bit of background about your writer. My name is Nat, I hail from lovely Kent in South East England (although soon to be plotting a new course due west to Dorset, if we ever manage to sell the house.) That was my first diversion. I think I will have to set up a diversion count for this blog, as I tend to distract myself onto another topic very quickly, as you will learn if you stick with it. I will get back on track eventually. Probably. Does that count as a diversion too? Oh, I've confused myself already. Nevermind.

So, yes, I have lived in Kent all of my 26 years, and for as long as I can remember, loved looking to the stars, even before I understood what I was looking at. It was always a casual interest, an 'Aw, isn't that lovely? OK, back to reality' kind of interest, until 20th March 2015, when by sheer luck, with no judgement or credit to be given on my count, I viewed perhaps the most spectacular and dramatic of astronomical events; a total solar eclipse. It was a tight thing too, because it seemed until the final throws that we wouldn't be able to see it. On arrival by ship to the fishy city of Torshavn (that's fishy as in it smells of fish, not untrustworthy. Any place literally called Thor's Harbour is plenty trustworthy in my book.) (Diversion #3) we were unable to dock due to inclement weather conditions, instead being forced to turn back out to sea and drop anchor off shore, watching the crowds jostling on the shore for the best viewing position fade slowly into a blur of camera flashes and parka jackets in the distance. Once anchored, it was tense wait as the thick clouds swirled above us, taunting us occasionally with snatches of the ever decreasing disc of the sun, but looking for all the world as if a view of totality would be denied to us.


Some people went back to the warm comfort of their cabins, frustrated by the unhelpful weather, the promise of warm brew to stave off the icy March temperatures too much to resist after hours of waiting for something which seemed unlikely to appear. This meant that, being rather Hobbit-like in stature (one of the few occasions in which it has been a benefit, even if some people find the airy feet rather off-putting) (diversion #4) I was able to slip to the front of the ship, and peer out into the sky without the shadows of my fellow passengers heads diving across my view. There was a lot of disappointed grumbling to be heard, and the cloud was by now a thick black curtain, an apparently impenetrable, teasing veil.

But then, with literally seconds to spare (how helpful for dramatic tension that timing was), the clouds parted as though brushed aside, revealing the moment when the disc of the Moon slid over that of the Sun, and a hush descended over those determined remaining crowds on deck. A chill filtered through the air, and it felt as though everyone held their breath in unison as the cosmos put on the most wonderful display of grandeur. I have never felt more tiny and fleeting than in that moment, never been more keenly aware that I merely a minuscule collection of atoms, standing on a lump of rock zooming through an infinite and violent universe which couldn't care less is I remember to put the bins out this morning. But I also felt wonderful, privileged to see it, a wake up call, if you will. Tiny, yes. Fleeting, yes. Insignificant, definitely not. By a strange twist of fortune, when we did later dock and clamber ashore to explore the Faroes, it emerged that, from the vantage point of the shoreline, where we should have been were it not for seemigly uncooperative weather conditions, they had been unable to see totality as clearly. What serendipity that bad weather turned out to be.


So that is my long, rambling, ineloquent answer to the question that my mother particularly likes to ask me when I traipse in at 3 in the morning after a frustrating night viewing mostly clouds. In the 200,000 odd years that humans have been rattling around this lump of rock, what an honour it is to be alive in this tiny slither of time in the history of the universe when I can freely and confidently explore our universe from my back garden. What an honour indeed.

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