Cosmic Reconciliation * Hemelruim Versoening

For the past decade or so I have been part of an astronomy group, the Orion Observation Group. Our main mission is to inspire others to look and appreciate the night sky.We were invited by the Afrikaanse Taalmonument (Afrikaans Language Monument) which is affiliated to the South African Department of Arts and Culture to host their popular summer season Stargazing Picnics. Once a month we set up our gear to give the public a chance to experience the night sky through our telescopes.Give and Take: Through the years my participation at the Taalmonument in Paarl, has made me much more aware of our country’s cultural diversity and so I aimed to contribute towards building a bridge between South African culture and Astronomy. I decided that a good way of achieving this would be to choose themes for our Stargazing evenings that would not only inspire budding astromers but budding artists, writers, poets and performers in any genre.

Our themes aren’t just chosen at random. First of all I scrutinize the date to see whether it coïncides with a specific astronomical event. I scour the library’s bookshelves and internet for star-related material suitable for specific dates like Valentine’s or New Year’s day. Finding new themes has been almost just as much fun as stargazing. If I find inspiration in the title of a book, in song lyrics, poetry or art, I contact the author. Most are very appreciative and give me their blessing. Some just ignore me and then I have to resume my search.So far no-one has been rude! Afrikaans is a colourful language and lends itself well to slight twisting and tweeking of the original.By now I have a file of themes with lots of memories of every Stargazing Picnic at the Taalmonument.

Initially I had something completely different lined up for 16 Dec 2017 when it dawned on me that this was a very special South African holiday: the Day of Reconciliation/Versoeningsdag. Back to the drawing board.

Hemelruim/Constellations sort of jumped off the computer screen and into my lap. When I read the synopsis I knew I had found the most perfect theme. The play “Constellations” by Nick Payne was adapted by well-known South African director, Nico Scheepers. The Afrikaans text was a triumph and “Hemelruim” staged sold-out performances at Aardklop, the KKNK and Fugard Theatre.

Reviews read: Hemelruim was an amazing theatre experience on a galactic scale
It’s about one relationship,infinite possibilities,free will and friendship; it’s also about quantum multiverse theory, love, and honey

Nico Scheepers revealed: I tried to make the characters as real as possible as people, whichever universe they’re in, because I think it is a core soul that echoes throughout all these parallel universes, with intent and choice painted over that

The theme for the Stargazing Picnic at the Taal Monument on 16 December 2017 will be:
Hemelruim Versoening/ Cosmic Reconciliation

With this I hope I can inspired more South Africans to reconcile and bring parallel universes together and most of all to inspire others to look at the stars.

Thanks to Nico Scheepers for this wonderful inspiration.

Science is not everything

Thirty Meter Telescope, Mauna Kea

Photo: Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

The erection of a new large telescope has always been an exciting event for scientists in the field of Astronomy. The protests against the the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope to be erected on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, are gaining momentum as crowds gather “from Oregon to Kentucky, New Mexico, North Dakota, Georgia and Massachusetts, Korea, New Zealand, England and Germany. Many of the gatherings are being spurred by social media”

As an amateur astronomer I am torn between two sides. When I read the articles, posts and comments of the Hawaiian community, I realise the huge difference between the importance of Mauna Kea to astronomy and the Hawaiian culture.
I am always advocating the importance of preserving nature. Astronomers were the first to realise the harmful effects of light pollution on our planet and all living things. I set out to do astronomy, feeling that I would not only be doing science but also be contributing to the worthy cause of protecting and preserving.

The Thirty Meter Telescope will surely be an impressive sight and eventually the data it gathers will reach billions of people all over the world.

To astronomers the site of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, which hosts 13 observation facilities, is of utmost importance. It is one of the world’s premier observatories for optical, infrared, and submillimeter astronomy.
In Hawaiian culture Maunakea, also known by its original name Mauna a Wakea is a sacred place. Wakea, sometimes translated as “Sky Father” is considered the father of the Hawaiian people.

I would never join a protest against the erection of a giant telescope and I do hope the “Sky Father” will give his blessing to the TMT and that the Hawaiian people will eventually be as much in awe of this magnificent structure as the engineers, astronomers and scientists and that in time to come accept that TMT was designed to bring our civilization closer to the stars.

James “Kimo” Kealii Pihana, Maunakea Ranger and Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner writes: “As a ranger on Maunakea, I’ve enjoyed working with many astronomers, who are generally people of good will and from whom I have learned much about the stars. But despite all of their scientific accomplishments, I do feel that much more needs to be done to bring awareness of and respect for Hawaiian culture on the mountain. Science does play an important role in people’s lives, but it is not everything. A spiritual connection is just as important. This is symbolized for modern Hawaiians by the humble stone and wood lele, the altar, at the summit”

“Science has a cultural history, too, with roots going back to the dawn of civilization. The same curiosity to find what lies beyond the horizon that first brought early Polynesians to Hawaii’s shores inspires astronomers today to explore the heavens. Calls to dismantle all telescopes on Mauna Kea or to ban future development there ignore the reality that astronomy and Hawaiian culture both seek to answer big questions about who we are, where we come from and where we are going” -Scientific American…/vis/cul…/the-white-mountain.html