By: CLIVE JACKSON
Clive Jackson is the Director of the Astronomical Observatory of Tavira (Sitio do Malhão, Tavira) and the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.
For me, astronomy is much more than a hobby. It is a mind stretching experience and a journey of discovery.
Let me explain a bit more: when you look up on any dark clear night you have your very own private window on the universe. Most people spend there lives with their heads down trying to cope with the daily problems of modern living.
This is entirely understandable because for most of the 20th Century, due to light pollution and other factors, children did not get to see the Milky Way, shooting stars, comets and horizon to horizon splendours that were on show before the world went industrialised. This is a real shame, as it is essential to have your imagination stretched as much as possible when young.
At the Observatory in Tavira we have around 4,000 primary school children per year attending our daytime activities and we do our very best to “boggle” their imagination so they leave with a different view of our place in the universe.
We are intimately linked with the stars as the very atoms that make up our bodies were created in a supernova explosion that happened in our corner of the galaxy 5,000 million years ago.
We really are part of the universe and the universe is part of us. For everybody alive on the Earth there are around 100 planets in our galaxy, and there are around 100,000 million galaxies in the universe. So this gives us 10 million, million planets each!
So while we are fighting over territory on the Earth’s surface there is an entire universe up there waiting for us. I can’t help but think that the world would be a better place if we all had to learn astronomy. It has the power to raise our consciousness in new ways. It changes the way you look at the world and maybe we’d take better care of our environment.
All this may seem like science fiction but the technology exists now for us to spread out into our solar system and beyond, what is missing right now is the imagination.
All this is very relevant to us. Our population is increasing and our resources are not, it is entirely possible that the 21st Century could be the last one for mankind unless we come up with something that lets us coexist in harmony with nature.
Throughout the 500 million year history of complex life on the Earth there have been mass extinctions where practically all life died out, we are not immune to this and the only viable long-term guarantee of survival of our species lies with us taking up our rightful place in the stars.
The frontiers of science are in Quantum Physics, where the conventional view of our Universe existing in three dimension and time may not be all it seems. There is growing evidence that our very existence influences the outcome of experiments in ways that are very difficult to explain using traditional “laws of physics”.
In the same way that our bodies are made from stardust created in a supernova, it may be that our minds and thoughts belong to a higher realm of existence that is linked to the Universe in ways that are at the moment beyond our understanding.
We live in very exciting times. Who knows what the future holds for us but we owe it to ourselves to take up the challenge and to “boldly go where no man has gone before” and hopefully leave all our bad habits behind us.
Next time you are out on a dark clear night take a moment to look up at that big, beautiful night sky and to enjoy your marvellous, new, endless journey of discovery. Finally, remember that the Universe is waiting!