Gaze: Where Wondering Leads

How Galileo brought the stars down to Earth

In the spring of 1609, an unknown professor of mathematics at the University of Padua first held a strange object, formed of a short cardboard tube with two lenses fixed at the end. He was not the first to hold a telescope, nor to point it at the Moon and draw what he saw there. So why, 400 years later, do we celebrate that moment as one of the most important in science? We do so because that man, Galileo Galilei, discovered the true face of the Moon – and in doing so, marked a sharp break in our history…This meant not just that Copernicus’s much-mocked idea that the Earth goes round the Sun was in fact true. It meant that the structure of the universe, and man’s relationship with the cosmos, had to be thought of in entirely new terms.

(By Paolo Galluzzi and Albert van Helden read more at this link)

I’m back in the sanctuary of the Writers Wrest, my cottage near the sea, with an ecstatic cat who is happy to be home to the familiar. I’ve just been out the back with the dogs, giving them dinner and doing what I usually do in those moments they take to vacuum up their food, gazing at the sky. I like it when I catch the evening star and can make a wish. I like finding the Southern Cross, it’s the only constellation that I can remember in the night skies. Actually, the Southern Cross is officially an asterism, a collection of stars that belongs to the constellation of Crux. Those stars had a real twinkle to them tonight.

Last year when I was living in Canberra I attended a series of talks at the National Library of Australia as part of the exhibition Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia. I loved all of the talks, especially the one on the monsters on maps and the one on how Aboriginal people used the stars for navigation. We heard about star maps, stone structures that had been used for reading the stars, stories that are attached to the stars, and about the relationship between lay lines and the stars.




noun: sanctity; plural noun: sanctities

1. the state or quality of being holy, sacred, or saintly.

“the site of the tomb was a place of sanctity for the ancient Egyptians”

holiness, godliness, sacredness, blessedness, saintliness, sanctitude, spirituality, piety, piousness, devoutness

2. ultimate importance and inviolability.

“the sanctity of human life”sacrosanctity, ultimate importance, inviolability.

The sanctity of the sky. It’s something I appreciate every time I go running in the ocean pool. I spend a great deal of that time looking at it and wondering. After a run under cloudy skies in November last year I felt a need to share what it had been like for me, so I wrote this short description which I’m including here today:

“I shared the ocean pool only with the local water birds and a wee, darting fish that had lost its school friends. The ocean rolled and roared and hissed, like the 1.00 am freight train. There were things of the ocean in the sky. A white whale’s belly, Jonathan Livingston screaming into land, the hull of a ship suspended by the fingers of God. Hues of grey, white, blue and a creeping rust brought the clouds above a little lower, a clarifying contrast to green moss on the rocks left bare by the gone tide. So incomprehensibly beautiful as to sanctify.”

Day 4 of the Your Turn Challenge asks that I use this blog post to teach you something that I do well. So here it is, star gazing 101:

Step one: Find a view of the evening sky

Step two: Look up for as long as you can

Step three: Appreciate the wonder, wonder what it all means.

Obviously the type of experience that you have can be influenced by a number of factors – geographical (whether you are away from city lights, what hemisphere you’re in), informational (whether you have someone with you who knows what they are looking at and can explain what you’re seeing, what the newspaper article says to look for tonight), philosophical (debate the rigidity of the heavens ancient Greek style, or ponder on the issues of space junk modern era style).

Stars are characterised by their absolute luminosity, that is the total energy radiated per unit time in the form of photons. I really don’t get the end part of that sentence…I just pause after absolute luminosity…it seems a fitting way to describe stars. Last week in the North West of Tasmania I had the opportunity to lay on a picnic table late at night, lost in the stars, watching the satellites and wondering at their absolute luminosity…wondering about those who have navigated by the stars…where their journeys led them…how clever men designed inventions that allowed the use of celestial bodies and the visible horizon to determine longitude and latitude.

Wondering is an important thing in my book. It allows us to experience things more deeply as we question, to gain new perspectives as we contemplate and to appreciate. Yet sometimes this is not enough and we have a call to action.

Those of you who have been following my blog this week will know that I have been linking the Your Turn Challenge back to the citizen led initiative Building Bridges. This is because the initiative is a collaborative one, it’s about a collective of citizens who will together make a difference.

Matt Jones is a pathfinder who recently completed an epic running stunt where he ran 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. The running was a stunt to thread a common narrative through 10 cities where an important question will be explored through a series of Design Forums asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

We are challenged to see ourselves as able designers (even if we’re not experts) and to make the choice to make a difference even if we’re not sure how or if we’re ready. This is a call to action about the sanctity and preciousness of life. If you’ve ever wondered about child survival and about what may make a difference, it could be you, in whatever small or great way…so get off the picnic table and have a look at the Building Bridges blog as a bit of a map and answer the question in Matt’s blog today “Where does your journey begin for making a difference that matters?”

When I jumped into the car to go to the library this afternoon KD Lang and Tony Bennett were crooning…

Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper, I love you
Birds singin’ in the sycamore tree
Dream a little dream of me.

Serendipitous given I was wondering about what I’d say about star gazing…
Dream big, dream different people! What is it that we can dream and then do for our global communities?


3 thoughts on “Gaze: Where Wondering Leads

  1. My nickname at the Royal Military College Duntroon was ‘Starman’ because I had a tendency for inspired thought, rather than simply deductive decision making. I tried to push back against the name, but true to Australian mate ship, the more I pushed, the more it stuck. It took me years to finally own it!

    I read this post with wonder, sharing that same spirt of anyone who is connected at the point of observation by staring at that night sky. Lovely! Thanks!


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