Review 2010: The Opinion Engine: 20/31: The most beautiful thing you've ever seen. (suggested by Kat Herzog)

M45 widefield 15.10.10

Science When I was much younger, my Dad was a scout leader and one night he took me to one of his meetings. I don’t remember anything about the meeting itself but afterwards we stood outside, three of us, we were waiting for one of the scouts to be picked up by his parents, and in the idle moment for reasons I again can’t remember, Dad pointed to the night sky and began to identify the constellations.

The original Clash of the Titans had not long been released, I think, and so perhaps it was because I’d asked one of my hundreds of questions. But I still have a vivid memory of his finger tracing the line of Orion’s belt, of trying to find the North Star, of listing the exotic names which were gifted to the various clusters. Pegasus. Perseus. The Plough. Oh.

It was and still is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Remember this would have been on a clear night in early eighties, still a time when the flood light that is the millennial city hadn’t get blanketed the sky with luminosity and so even the smudgiest of star groups, such as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters would still have been visible.

Not even the Liverpool Planetarium feature in which the lights in the room are dimmed as far as health and safety will allow and the dome is filled with stars as way of showing what the sky would have looked like before the invention of electric lighting can really capture that version of the sky I have locked in my memory, overwhelming to the younger version of me.

Astronomers often talk of similar experiences as the catalyst for entering their profession but at the time, the night sky was just one small part of geography lessons at school which concentrated on the planets rather than the stars beyond. My natural tendency has been towards the arts which is probably why I remember the visual experience so vividly.

I don’t look towards the sky at night much now. There’s little point. Even from within Sefton Park, only the brightest stars are perceptible. We city dwellers have now lost the ability to see the biggest, most frightening and most spectacular free light show, one that draws together science and history and art. Perhaps I should go and find my cottage so that I can see it again.

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