It gives me great pleasure that this article was published in The Hindu’s Open Page dated 27th September 2016. The illustration is beautifully done by Mr Deepak Harichandran
There is something deeply calming and beautiful about gazing up at the stars at the end of a long day. It feels reassuring to know that we are but a small part of the cosmos, and it helps us puts our worries, anxieties and fears in perspective.
If there is nothing for the children to enjoy in terms of nature, divert their attention to the ever changing panorama of the skies and let them experience wonder said Reverend James Woodforde in The Diary of a Country Parson when asked about children growing up in urban surroundings, who do not have the luxury of waddling through nature.
Reverend Woodforde (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Woodforde) would be pleased indeed if he went on a walk with the toddler son. Once the stars are visible, the son makes it a point to look up, his eyes filling up with wonder and questions bubbling up. His ardent sister fans him along by pointing to the constellations and asking him to identify some of them. The young astronomer accepts this great responsibility with grace. He then proceeds to point at Ursa Major and calls it Orion, Ursa Minor is christened Sirius, Jupiter is labelled Venus and the Moon remains the Moon. All of this is done with confidence and joy, and the walk takes on a gentle humor of its own.
It is hard to identify constellations for us and even less need to do so now that we have access to excellent apps such as Skymaps and Google Sky. The skies are, however, fascinating and it will be nice to be able to identify the constellations even if we don’t need them to navigate from Spot A to Spot B at the moment.
One night as we stepped out for a stroll after a particularly satisfying meal and dessert, we diverted our gaze skywards as is our wont.
“If I become a space traveler, will you come with me?” he asked me a little line of worry creasing his face.
The background to this question was, of course, another conversation in which we had to let him know that when he grew old enough to become an astronaut, we would be past the age that is currently acceptable for astronauts. Maybe his sister could join him, but we may be past it. He looked forlorn when he heard that, and I made a mental note to remind him about how keen he was to have our company on a space vehicle, when he attempts to learn driving as a teenager.
I looked at his face and said, “You know? A century earlier, nobody could have thought your grandparents could fly across the world to meet you, so we don’t really know how things will change. Maybe if things progress along space travels, we could. Who knows?” I said. He seemed happy with the answer, and said,”Where would you like to go first? Which planet?”
I thought for a moment and said I would like to go to Neptune. “How about you? Where would you like to go?” I asked him.
“I want to go to Jupiter – maybe the great big spot in the storm.” The daughter asked him why, and he said, that he would like to see the moon have some company. On Jupiter, you can see 64 moons right?
“Did they teach you that in School?” I asked pleasantly impressed and surprised.
“No…..on Space Racers, Eagle and Robin get stuck in the storm on Jupiter remember?” said the couch-astronaut. (Space Racers is a TV program created with input from NASA)
“Space Racers – Together the Fun Begins…Rockatocka mission, we’re on our way….Space Racers…..” He then sang the whole title song for my benefit,laughing to fit (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZPOAEGhTl8)
Whether through Television, movies, smart phone apps that map the sky for us or through Science lessons, it is wonderful to glory in the expanse of the Universe and humbly accept our position within it. Like Carl Sagan, the noted physicist, said, “Astronomy is a humble and character building experience.”
Happy Astronomers Day!