I used to take a casual interest in astronomy and the goings on in space. I’m not sure what happened to that interest, maybe it was lost as a symptom of depression, or through:
- losing patience with the lack of clear skies here
- not being suited to sitting around in the cold (I’m a slim fellow and the winter skies are generally the best ones for stargazing)
- enjoying the routine of early nights/needing to get up early
- being addicted to a screen and therefore more interested in staying indoors (staring at one) in the evenings
Looking back, I remember the news reports of the space station Mir being subjected to a controlled re-entry (that was back in 2001); news reports about anything to do with that space station fascinated me. I also remember when the Hubble Space Telescope was launched and the debacle with the mirror.
One productive thing regarding astronomy that I did use my computer usage for was finding out when the International Space Station would be passing overhead; I would hope for clear skies and then, on cloudless nights, rush outside to watch the white dot pass overhead. Once you’ve done that a few times you’ve kind of seen it.
As a child I did receive a small toy telescope one Christmas, but it was pretty pathetic. I did have ideas about one day buying one of the more serious bits of kit I would scrutinise in one of the various astronomy magazines bought, but that never happened; perhaps I couldn’t justify the cost in the end or my interest had waned too much by the time I could afford one. I learned some of the constellations and where to find them; Orion is always the one I spot now and the bright star Sirius. I remember the solar eclipse of 1999.
In addition to the ISS I also spotted other satellites and looked out for meteors. There was the time that I camped out all night in the hope of catching sight of one particular shower, but for the few nights of that event the skies weren’t clear enough, and in the end I crawled into my tent and sleeping bag as sleeping became a higher priority. I most remember this event from the fact that I ended up camping outside each night for an entire month, long after the event had passed!
That was perhaps the last time I bothered spending any time outside for the possible sighting of a meteor shower. However, a few space missions now and then do perk my interest. One of these was when “we” chased down that comet with the Rosetta spacecraft and landed ‘Philae’ on it; that seemed amazing to me, being able to do that, to program a craft with the instructions in order to carry out that feat, or perhaps it was that guy in the colourful shirt that kept me entertained.
There was one thing that did bug me regarding that mission though and that was the repeated phrase about “doing science” (the guy in the colourful shirt used it a lot). To me “science” was a lesson at school, it wasn’t something you “did”; to “do science” would be to do experiments, like with peanuts over a Bunsen burner, or so I thought. But I suppose such crafts as these that can arrive at other worlds, with their equipment to carry out experiments, and beam the data back home, if one can call a simple lump of rock or ice hurtling through space another world (space scientists seem to think so), are enabling us to “do science” even if the equipment is so far away and the data takes hours to get back to us.
That phrase, “doing science” persists and has been made with regards to a recent (and to me similar) mission of interest: the one to explore ‘Ultima Thule’. It doesn’t seem quite as impressive as landing on a comet, but it has still managed to meet up with it (something that I find mind-boggling in itself), photograph it, and proceeds to do experiments, send the data back to earth and enable scientists to “do science”. Doing science, it seems to me, is about reading results and interpreting that data; is this not guess-work, albeit, intelligent guesswork, and pinning results to the guesses that match up?!
Besides the ‘science’ of these two missions, it is curious to me the names chosen for such things:
The Rosetta probe was named after the Rosetta Stone, a stele of Egyptian origin featuring three scripts that ultimately enabled the deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The lander Philae was named after one of two ancient Egyptian obelisks (the other one being broken and seemingly unnamed), again containing inscriptions in two languages useful in the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
They met with “67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko”, a “Jupiter-family comet originating from the Kuiper Belt.” That was named after the two Soviet astronomers who discovered it.
‘Ultima Thule’ (also a Kuiper Belt object) is a Latin nickname. In classical literature Thule meant a “distant place located beyond the borders of the known world” [which makes me think of Atlantis]. However when I first heard the name I recalled the books I had read about the ‘Thule Party’, a Society from First World War Germany, a German occultist group founded right after World War I, of which some have claimed had ties with the Nazis.
In Gary Hyland’s book Blue Fires about lost Nazi technology, he says that the Thule Society was concentrating on acquiring knowledge of Aryan prehistory and its rituals and that by adopting this name its founder was
tapping into a potent Aryan myth, for Thule was the reputed capital of the land of Hyperborea … This mysterious and legendary land to the far north, was supposedly the gateway to new worlds in other galaxies and dimensions, as well as to the ‘inner world’, that place place so beloved by supporters of the ‘hollow earth’ theory, who would have us believe that the world is largely hollow and supporting another complete ecosystem.
The story goes that the Nazis moved to Antarctica in their U-Boats and constructed bases there, or even journeyed beyond the edges of the ice walls (if you believe the Flat Earth Theory), or went down into the hollow earth… perhaps meeting with ancestors of Bruce Lee.
In a Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh book about Secret Germany, the Thule Society is mentioned on the same page as “Templars”. The ‘Ordo Novo Templi’, or Order of the New Templars was founded by Liebenfels. The authors here go on to say that
Among his beliefs was that of a universal psychic energy animating the cosmos, which had as ‘its most perfect manifestation [the] blond-haired blue-eyes Aryan’. Among the programmes he advocated was a ritualistic immolation of ‘racial inferiors’ as sacrificial offerings to pagan gods.
All fascinating, if not disturbing stuff.
Returning to the name of Ultima Thule for that chosen Kuiper Belt object for the New Horizons mission/craft to explore, NASA invited suggestions from the public on a nickname to be used (an official name will be given to it at a later date) and other names considered included Abeona (the Roman Goddess of Outward Journeys), Pharos (the Lighthouse of Alexandria), Pangu (the first living being and the creator of all in some versions of Chinese mythology), Rubicon (means to do something that you cannot later change and will strongly influence future events), Olympus, Pinnacle and Tiramisu. Yummy. Apparently NASA knew of Thule’s links with the Nazis. I suppose it’s hard to find a name for something that is both meaningful yet doesn’t have these weird links with history or something esoteric.
Perhaps in 2019 I’ll make more of an effort to look at the night skies, beyond the sunsets that can look wonderful here (as can be the sunrises).