Calling All Stargazers and Kindred Spirits

 

Back in 1979, astrophysicist / author Carl Sagan and writer / producer Ann Druyan were both working diligently towards successfully launching their Sci-Fi film… Contact… off the Tinseltown storyboards and into our cineplexes.

Within six years, undue, unwanted, unproductive behind the scenes, Hollywood “drama” had begun to undo this dynamic duo’s momentum and, at one point, had even threatened to scrub their mission. As it turned out, it would take the transposition of 1979’s ending 7 and 9 digits before this film could be completed.

Sadly, mere months prior to that, Dr. Sagan, had succumbed to myelodysplasia (a pre-leukemic syndrome) and wound up shuffling off this mortal coil.

Had he survived, he certainly would’ve been on hand to high-five Contact’s screenplay writers James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg, director Robert Zemeckis and the entire cast and crew. He’d have especially applauded the multifaceted actress, Jodie Foster, for her stellar performance… for her breathing so much life into the film’s protagonist… the multidimensional astronomer Ellie Arroway.

Seeing how Sagan and Druyan’s core principles / personae had become so thoroughly infused into the Contact script’s pages (in a sense, right down to the atomic structure of the ink toner and papyrus) it was inevitable that Foster would tap into their attributes throughout the film… especially during the emotionally charged denouement… i.e., where Dr. Arroway had so passionately addressed the conclave of her wholly skeptical and wildly infuriated adversaries… had spoken of the life changing, journey to the cosmos, which had further heightened her pre-existing, astronomer’s lofty outlook on life.

Said she…

“I… had an experience… I can’t prove it, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever… A vision… of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how… rare, and precious We all are! A vision that tells us that We belong to something that is greater then ourselves, that We are not, that none of us are alone! I wish… I… could share that… I wish, that everyone, if even for one… moment, could feel… that awe, and humility, and that hope. But… That continues to be my wish.”

SIDEBAR: Ironically, in an earlier scene (set within this same venue) many of these same inquisitors had expected agnostic Arroway to take a leap of faith… to no questions asked / no skepticism allowed… believe in the existence of a Supreme Being. YET… by film’s end… they, themselves, flat-out refused to take a similar leap of faith… to no questions asked / no skepticism allowed… believe in the existence of the superior alien civilization she claimed to have made first contact with.

So… why have I opted to review a 21-year-old film?

Contact makes contact with the very hearts and souls of everyone who has ever given a damn about the survival of our civilization. It is the skywatchers of our world who, perhaps, feel this the strongest… be We the professional or the backyard variety… be We telescopically enhanced or relying solely on the naked eye.

We can feel an affinity with all who have ever seen… who still see… beyond the pure science… all who speak of the awe, humility and hope, which our viewing experiences conjur up. Such a state of mind endures whether We are virtually traveling thru our ethereal, vast starlit cosmos or are wandering about our hometowns, homelands and home world.

Although we do remain resolute re the awe and humility aspects, holding onto hope is not always so easy. You see, its just as the celestial images begin to fade into the daylight… just as we’re coming back down to earth… where / when the heavyhearted dismay tends to resurface. Once again, our worldly thoughts zero in on the godforsaken, power-hungry, posturing, avarice driven, dictator zeros who usually wind up calling all the shots… and… in that capacity… are to blame for our global, sociopolitical and ecological disarray.

The run-of-the-mill, disconnected from our universe autocrat could never, truthfully, claim to be the humble servant he is supposed to be… could not even begin to fathom / embrace Saganesque awe, humility and hope. His typical reaction to viewing celestial objects / events would not likely garner much more than his yawned out words…

These are just dots in the sky, what more do you expect Me to say?

Me oriented leadership is precisely the problem. That odious, oafish What’s in it for me, Me, ME? bad ‘tude is the driving force behind virtually all of our societal ills. Their tormented, subjugated victims, while (oft literally) crying out for some much needed liberation, seldom possess the power to empower alternative, We oriented leadership.

Indeed, it’s the We oriented philosophy, which is so harmonious with the stargazers’ awe, humility and hope. This is amply illustrated within that above Arroway quotation where she thrice uttered the word “We”. And let’s not forget to include her inclusive language such as “us”, “ourselves” and “everyone”. Were such sentiments fully taken to heart by our leaders, We would already be well on our way to saving humanity from ruin.

It is no accident that Founding Father / author Gouverneur Morris began the U.S. Constitution’s Preamble with the words “We the People”. He and his constitutional compatriot co-writers deemed those three words so crucial that even the likeminded calligrapher, Jacob Shallus, had so boldly pen stroked those three key words in an enlarged font.

“We the People

of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

When such a proclamation births such a great nation, one has to wonder how any electorate could ever tap into some lame, Donny-Come-Lately’s slanderous, spurious / fake claim that America is no longer great. Ironically, such an entity is usually the one who… in the end… winds up threatening the very greatness of all great nations.

Why oh why is it that the nations of our world suffer such a deficit of We oriented leaders? One would expect admirable attributes such as awe and humility to be innate. Even if advancing this attitude involves nurture more than nature it should still be easily attainable.

Metaphorically speaking, We are all participants in the human race… a relay race. In the course of running our laps… concurrently upon our planet’s orbital path and the more down to Earth race track… the intergenerational passing off of the baton of human decency should occur without a hitch… a simple matter of the hand-off from each awe-humility-hope-harboring elder trainer to each awe-humility-hope-hungering youngster trainee.

I do have my parents to thank, for they not only deeply encoded / embedded awe-humility-hope into my infinitesimal DNA during my conception but also reinforced these attributes by handing off that “baton” to me during my formative years.

What a pity so many, who fancy themsleves leaders, cannot make a similar proclamation.

I do suppose that Awe-Humility-Hope sentimets… that We trumps Me ‘tude… all being second nature to the stargazers and other kindred spirits of our world, this is what accounts for our expectations that the rest of humanity will be willing to follow suit.

Let us hope that such sentiments… such expectations… are not overly optimistic.

 

 

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A Sense of DNA Level Déjà Vu [Part 2]

 

Throughout Part 1, you and I began reliving my overnight, in the wee hours of July 28th telescopic “travels” to Mars… at a point where the red planet had been scant days shy of it’s closest encounter with Earth since August 27, 2003.

By that post’s conclusion, we’re arriving at the moment of first contact… my first, telescopically enhanced, visual contact with the red planet in nearly 15 years. I begin sharing my initial feelings of the moment… earth-shattering impressions one need not be an astronomer… either professional or amateur… to experience and appreciate. I wind up concluding…

“A transcendental moment, such as this, is where one’s worldly concerns dissolve into the rarefied air. Minds tend to free associate / wander and welcome the timelessness of it all. A sense of DNA level déjà vu also enters the mix… after all… has not humankind been stargazing ever since first standing up on two feet? Ever since that (then) newly evolved posture first allowed us to look upward to the eternal heavens?”

As Part 2 begins… we now return to my backyard open air observatory… my eyes and mind still effortlessly wandering the heavens. I cannot help but feel (right down to my infinitesimal DNA) that sturdy bond with the multiple hundreds of generations of human stargazers before my time.

At the very first glimpse of Mars in my scope’s eyepiece, my time traveling / traveling the heavens begins. Flashbacks first send me to my previous, August 2003, telescopic, close encounter with Mars and, next, back to April of that very year… when my own mother’s change of address had involved her new heavenly home. And that, too, reminds me of how I had chosen a heavenly / stellar theme for her memorial service… had written… had interwoven… the very stars into the eulogy I had delivered to honor her…. to chronicle her life and times… to remind all in attendance of her star power.

Long before this night, I’ve realized that it matters not if my observations are telescopically enhanced or naked eye… whenever I’m gazing up at the starry skies I cannot help but feel that unbreakable bond with my forbearers… my unshakable belief that both of my parents’ loving, protecting instincts are still intact and alive… that their eternal spirits are gazing right back at me. And I suspect I shall continue to harbor such perceptions until I join them, someday… when, upon my arrival, I wind up partying right alongside them at that ultimate family reunion in the sky!

My thoughts soon crossfade to my very first, fresh out of the packing carton, telescopic viewing session on April Fools Day ‘97… just in time to eyewitness The Great Comet of ’97, Hale-Bopp… observe its flyby into our inner solar system’s local neighborhood. More crossfades ensue. I’m now revisiting long ago, memorable viewing sessions involving my first time encounters with Saturn… my being wowed by its almost surreal system of rings… my also inviting my Mom to eyewitness this natural wonder on the grandest of scales… and her being wowed, too. I also recall my first sighting of Jupiter and its four Galilean satellites… as well as my earliest deep space visits with The Pleiades / The Seven Sisters and Orion’s Nebula and Trapezium Cluster.

Imagine that! All of these cherished memories occurring while standing beneath… in the midst of… this marvelous Mars July ’18 moment… while all the details of this close encounter are getting written into the annals of astronomical history… are concurrently being imprinted / indelibly burned into my own memories.

My thoughts now crossfade to my boyhood days… to a time when I first came down with my “bad case” of Mars Mania… all of which I’ll be fondly recalling when I post Part 3… later this week.

 

 

A Sense of DNA Level Déjà Vu

 

As I commit this black font to white screen, it’s been approximately 36 hours since my reluctantly “returning” to Earth. Much transpired leading up to, during and since my “journey” and… via the following account… I now begin to relive my “travels” thru space/time.

Once again, I find myself venturing forth into out-of-doors overnight… the wee hours of Saturday, July 28th… experiencing the sensation of being enshrouded by the unseasonably chilly air…12.8ºC / 55ºF [Note to self… next time don both jacket and dew resistant footwear].

My 2 orbs panning, upward, across the 2 a.m. heavens, I find 2 orbs instantly, intently, “staring” back at me… our dazzling, milk-white, Full Moon and, not far beneath it, its celestial BFF… the vividly reddish-orange, planet Mars… scant days away from its closest encounter with Earth since August 27, 2003. For a moment I chuckle… might Mars’ orb / eye be deemed bloodshot?

My thoughts now dismiss the frivolous / focus upon the factual. I mentally note, crunch and compare the specific orbital data of each new millennial, Mars/Earth rendezvous… 2003’s distance apart had been 55.8 million km / 34.6 million mi compared to the here and now’s projected 57.6 million km / 35.8 million mi.

My naked eye observations of these spherical apparitions have instantaneously prompted my I’ve-Gotta-Get-A-Closer-Look reaction. Rushing back inside, within mere minutes I’m lugging out and setting up my 90mm refractor telescope / tripod and transforming my home-turf into an open air, backyard observatory.

Regrettably, proximity, alone, is no guarantee of ideal seeing conditions… especially when peering at dinky Mars through such a small, low tech scope. The other factors in play will be [1] Earth’s rotation, which… @460 meters per second / 1,000 miles per hour… is constantly making a motion picture out of our nighttime skies… [2] the tilt of Earth’s axis positioning the red planet too low in the southwestern, hazy skies… [3] the sky awash with both lunar brightness and manmade light pollution… [4] the ongoing “game” of planetary peekaboo “curtesy” of two, nearby, towering, deciduous trees.

Even so, this amateur astronomer relishes any opportunity to experience the grandeur of our little corner of the universe… views any need to repeatedly relocate and realign his unwieldy scope to be a labor of love.

And now that I’ve accurately trained my smaller, finder scope’s crosshairs, it’s time to peer through the eyepiece… get my very first, optically enhanced, glance at Mars in nearly a decade and a half. I can feel my facial muscles forming a slight, contented smile.

The still of the night’s “soundtrack” is now “in/on the air”. The “musical genres” inclusive of my “easy listening” rhythmic breathing… the “one hit wonder” of brief, off in the far distance, spooked crow’s caws… the occasional “garage band” roar of 18-wheeler semis barreling down the faraway, highways and byways… the “classical flautist” inspired unexpected, mournful blasts of a miles away, freight-train engineer’s horn.

A transcendental moment, such as this, is where one’s worldly concerns dissolve into the rarefied air. Minds tend to free associate / wander and welcome the timelessness of it all. A sense of DNA level déjà vu also enters the mix… after all… has not humankind been stargazing ever since first standing up on two feet? Ever since that (then) newly evolved posture first allowed us to look upward to the eternal heavens?

 

Stay tuned for Part 2… to be posted later this week.