Stars Burn Out Issue 2 -- Spring 2019
Editorial Welcome to the second issue of Until the Stars Burn Out. The theme of this issue is Mankind and the Stars, and as usual, all of the artists, writers and scientists who have chosen to contribute to this issue have interpreted the theme in their own unique way. As always it has been an honour and a learning curve to read all of the submissions that I have received, and in several cases learn new things about topics that I didnâ€™t know much about. The project continues to attract people from all walks of life, as we try to navigate what it means to share this world and attempt to make sense of the world around us. We inherit knowledge from previous generations and leave it for future ones. Several pieces in this issue are about gravitational waves, which is one of the most beautiful stories of modern physics. Another ongoing theme is the humanisation of scientists and pioneers, and what this means to the rest of us. I was so moved by a few pieces that I received this issue that I wrote an essay about them, with the permission of those who inspired me. Themes appear spontaneously in other ways. I was surprised to receive many submissions on marine life, for example, via metaphorical associations between the ocean and the stars. This is a theme that I explore often in my own writing, not least of all because the forces which direct ocean circulation and so are also part of the dynamics of galactic evolution, star formation, and the physics which bring us the Northern Lights.
Moreover, the ocean -- which, even now, remains largely unexplored -- acts as both metaphor and fully-functioning imaginative laboratory for experimenting with new ideas. There is something about facing vast unexplored darkness and asking of it what technologies will be required to explore it, how differently life might exist there, and who we will be as a species and as individuals if our own backdrop altered to incorporate it. Mostly, I have been awed by the humility and reverence that writers and artists bring to the subject. Managing a project of this size is never straightforward, particularly as a pet project alongside my core research work and other commitments. As always, creating this issue has been fascinating, humbling and eye-opening to work on, and I very much hope you enjoy this Spring issue as much as I enjoyed editing it. As always, images are public domain except where specified, and have been drawn heavily from sources such as Unsplash and The Public Domain Review. Future artwork submissions are always very welcome. Please note that there are no biographies for this issue since only around half of contributors sent one in. Clear skies,
Maya H, Editor, Until the Stars Burn Out.
Artwork by Judith Borque
Observations from Mars, 2040
Earth and Moon aligned with the sun, a syzygy like that moment in 2001 when the black monolith screeched, signalling to an alien intelligence apes at last had escaped from Earth. In our telescope, Earth is gibbous like the pockmarked Moon, a pendant sapphire stigmatised by ochre, green and whorls of cloud, its southern tip a shiver of white.
Yet messages from Earth have told us of inundations, ships where once was ice, plastics converging in oceans’ gyres, corals bleached, and crustaceans’ shells slowly dissolving in acidulated seas. The latest news is worse. Little survives in the oxygen-depleted blue, but algae bloom where agriculture swills away nitrogen and phosphorus, and hot vents’ sulphur lets unusual creatures thrive. Ice scratched from Martian crust provides all our radiation-resistant biomes need -power, oxygen, and water enough to cultivate vegetables, fruit and fish. Life out here is good: we don’t consider going home.
Ockhamâ€™s Razor No whisps or curlicues of surplus assumptions. No stubble of excess hypothesis. No tache of needless supposition. Or luxurious beards, over-postulating, freighted with colonising crumbs of starter conjectures or sweet treats nibbled in a closing course of creamy cosmic comforts. Shaving close, sometimes, to an itchy skinned reality.
Pioneers Silhouetted by the low sun, reed-stubs project from the grey unruffled pond. Some stand straight, others curve gently or are angled sharply into the water -all reflected in a precise symmetry of longbows, triangles and lines. Juxtaposed, longbow and triangle recall the engraved plaque on the Pioneers we tossed like bottles into the infinite sea, but weâ€™ll be gone long before any finders can identify our origin and who we were. We live for the moment on a pale blue dot whose slow degradation is urging us to construct a Mayflower fit for space. Our pioneers must colonise a different dot before all life-support shuts down and Earth, scorched beyond aridity, is swallowed by a reddening, swelling sun.
Pioneers 10 and 11 were launched by NASA in 1972 and 1973, respectively.
Night Flight From Liverpool The night was clear, good for the Northern Lights, declared the two astronomers travelling with us: The last three flights had been a waste of time, they said, craning through the windows with excitement. In no-one elseâ€™s flight path, we were lone explorers, eyesight adjusting to the absolute dark once the pilot switched off all the lights. Slowly constellations showed themselves and the astronomers named them for us: Cygnus, Cassiopeia, Gemini; plus shooting stars that hurtled down the night so rapidly
we thought we heard them whooshing past. We did not recognise the greenish glow until it leapt across the sky, a giant caribou, its antlers bearing flames of green and blue. We watched the vivid spectacle of Northern lights prancing on the backdrop of the night, our faces pressed to the port-hole windows of the plane like white moons, round and stupefied with wonder.
If There Could Be That Multiverse Sit down and dry your tears, child. Close your eyes and think. Imagine that the universe is more, much more. Blink back your disbelief and let free thought chase all those shining dreams into expanse to know a multiverse, a vast experiment exploring ways to be, spanning out and looping back through bright infinity. Then realise that maybe somewhere in the endless possibilities is change where what is sad and wrong is not, and all you miss and sorrow for in here and now still breathes.
Lost Magic I was told the moon was a magical place for no-one could see its other side. You will know that side has been found by a team of Chinese who also tried to coax a plant to life on it; it leafed but then rapidly died. I was told it was made of cheese. You will know that itâ€™s rock and dust. I was told of the Man in the Moon who every night watched over us. You know that Man has now walked on the moon and expect that one day you will too. Yet will you, as I do, always delight in the way our world turns silver and gleams whenever the moon is clear and bright. Or tell me instead that the moonâ€™s never shone but merely reflected the light of the sun?
Lovers on the Moon We hold each other in the lee of craters where dust settles like drifts of snow. Our feet trace patterns in this powder. These are the marks we leave behind, where there are no trees, no moonlight by which to carve our initials. We hold hands, kiss awkwardly through our pressure suits, carry tanks of oxygen like roses, dance where there is no wind. We stand together in darkness, watching our planet warm the night above us. We came here just to make love bathed in the blue glow of Earth.
Itâ€™s So Bewildering ... Dawn in wintertime is like a coffin-lid Lifted and, a feldspar of bones shimmering Ice-covered reaches out to touch your hand. Ice-crystals bear their impressive teeth, mouth-crammed Itâ€™s so bewildering and embitteringYet-enriching, splashing through snow like a squid. The world flickers into life; turned ghostly white Shrubs are buckling with a weight not, of their own. Trees, like the horses of the apocalypseAre frozen, mid-gallop, and stars like steamships? Glisten orange like a flower overblown, ... Petals near spilling like a meteorite.
A Black Hole Has No Hair The first thing we know about black holes is the singularity, a point so dense, so “there”, so intense, so utterly compressed that the mechanisms we believe about the universe all break. Oh, you can try to do the maths but all the numbers are zero or infinite and if you persist you end up multiplying by eye colour; dividing by the day of the week and if that doesn’t freak you out...
The second thing we know about black holes is they come gift-wrapped in a sphere a so-called event horizon a door so implacably one-way you can get there from here but there’s no way back for captured souls, like those who thought the old mirror in the weird antique shop was just a conversation piece and if that doesn’t freak you out...
The third thing we know about black holes is that inside the event horizon all the lines converge parallel or otherwise all fates combine all roads lead to singularity going one place/no place in both directions all futures grimly knowable, pointless, unique and if that doesnâ€™t freak you out...
The fourth thing we know about black holes is that time just stops at the event horizon or so it appears to us out here peering in at the faces of the damned frozen in mid scream and if that doesnâ€™t freak you out...
The fifth thing we know about black holes is they arenâ€™t as black as we once thought
and Hawking radiation leaks out slowly via quantum bubbles on the edge of the horizon but that is no escape because the radiation is randomised and might take any form, from quantum radio noise, to exquisite Louis Quatorze occasional tables, Daleks, cats, Freddy Krueger, or radio Cthulhu: the Old Ones bleeding back into a universe that thought it was done with that and if that doesnâ€™t freak you out...
The sixth thing we know about black holes is in the middle of the galaxy is one five million times heavier than the sun.
It has been a good universe. Most of it went as planned; a few nebulae out of place,
a shortfall of proper intelligence.
We walked out around the lake,
from a stream off the moor,
as flat as fresh ice; the only ripples channelling last weekâ€™s rain.
That little place, third out
from its paltry star; they had a few good ideas: buttons, sherbet dib-dabs, love.
It was good the day the tide
and the sand didnâ€™t grind us away.
missed our fast-discarded clothes
The sun tanned my back, your front.
How We Fit Into The Scheme Of Things
They never really got along,
always squabbled about silly things. It was better when the octopuses
came to prominence; such dexterity.
I remember you at birth, twice;
of hair, how quick you came
their looks of surprise, their heads to them with milk and cradling.
So often the homonids and cephalopods had the right idea; their scientists were
bright. If only they had given more time to the poets, particularly the cuttlefish.
A Calculation The most complex thing in the universe doesnâ€™t understand itself.
Budget Allocation The moral is: weâ€™d rather get off the planet than give poor people more money.
Qasida of the Stars Through kelp and bladderwrack two silver fish -one is shadow the other just echo. Fellow travellers show me my home! In the stars, flows the shadow echoes in my throat beached between breaths -- out, then in. Two black gulls and a cloaked time-keeper change places and wait. Fellow pilots show me my home! In the stars flows the shadow echoes in my throat. Through seaweed two black fish change places and wait.
She Invents the Astrolabe She wanted a machine that would be small enough to carry everywhere and that would tell her where she was and how to travel on.
She craved a universe that made some kind of sense, a world she could control in measurements as her defence against the hour of her death.
Desire to catch and hold the stars, to mark the passage of the sun across the sky, and even capture time, had filled her dreams with images and words
that she made solid, transferred to substance, shaping disks, engraving patterns, crafting connections into play. Minutes chased around the rim
and each rotation marked the passing of a single day. She slotted sections neatly into place for it to prove its name as Star Taker, cartographer of space.
A Dream of Jellyfish It is all too easy to live
Without taking a breath
To never close your eyes And find yourself
Where the waters meet The solid earth
So I ask you friend To take pause
Look close beneath The still surface Where
A dream of jellyfish swim Breaking the tension
Creatures light as thought
Catch the eye and slow the heart Cobalt beneath the carbon They turn to catch the sun Perfect, silent
Circles within circles The wheels of life
A universe of gears Measuring time
The rhythm of tides
A slow pulse visible Beating against
The neck of the river
A Message To You, Rudy We sit on the high stools from the kitchen, contemplating the space shuttle console before us, controlling the boost and thrust by means of the complicated array of switches and sliders that must be mastered to win the space race. Wilfully ignoring the fact that Dad will be home soon and will knack us for fiddling with the settings of his graphic equalizer. Again. My sister -- Astronaut in Chief -is allowed to wear the curly-corded headphones and use the record player. But as lowly Space Cadet -- You havenâ€™t had the training, see -I am restricted to the tape deck. Whenever I am allowed to pick a song this is always the one I choose. Our high stools transform from lunar command module to spotlit stage. We perch face to face sing this song into our memories, where it will sustain us in discordant middle-age.
Star Fish Lyra worked with fish: Koi carp, rudd and gudgeon. She fed them flakes and mealworms, which they nibbled from her fingers like inti. Sometimes, on the odd night shift, she stood beside the pool and pointed out the constellations, more as proof of astronomy than to teach her tyros new celestial shapes. She showed them Pegasus and Fornax, how the lines of Crux and Lupus fell across the sky, the way Reticulum was not a net to frighten them. On the surface there was no reaction; they still darted to the weed each time a shadow fell across the sheeny water, still breached its tension when the sun shone. Down below, although to the untrained eye they sometimes made a ‘V’ as they shoaled from end to end, those who understood knew they’d nearly fathomed out the shape of Pisces. inti -- space dust
A Sky of Summer You’ve seen fire feed, seen fireball trees contort air like anguish; then you learned what can’t be forgotten; the emptiness of night, stars like holes in lace, the space between dispersed in unrestricted absence. Impotent celebration of dying, finite end ignoring time while taking time from furtherest history, exaggerated interiors like cultivated fields and corrupt exteriors, obviously solid and dark to the absolute core: you knew nothing of this. Or, that music sounds from all fire, even as starlight strikes starlight, or that stars close like lips, and inside those, another mouth wide open, and so on, all wide open, as if with song they encourage you to be blind. And at these stars, darkness must stop. From this one sky stars synthesize oceans of sound in whose white shine the cave slides open. And the stillness of the stars: listen: echoes of shadows so immense they’re visible as ripples returning from the middle. Never mind that black holes drift there outside the stars, nothing like Lucifer’s fall from light; the frowning star figure plunged into darkness; how the heat merged
with him and the bright one flew, joined to all that go nowhere. And what they gain; it can be both start and stop, naked and a boon, a tail and a mirror. Everything is the same dust that stars are made of. That dense clustered group - it was once petals of a flower in which a different colour, less faded, less grey, pumped as blood. Its voluble green has lost the sweet foretaste of fern. And that rustic group -an old shoe in which a sock once sat stiff and cold, abandoned solitary in the night-lit shade of a city. And these, like crystals ringing; these, a voluminous pewter platter piled high with large dull eyes -and this one, turned away from everything not itself. They all do that. Exclude everything: conform to the internal galaxy, tornados and earthquakes, fretful autumn, pride and solidarity, blatant black and the brightness of pre-dawn sky, the gathered, shuffling clouds, the specific effects of proximate roses on an eyeful of outwardness, to stretch trembled through these cut off stars, the wasp on the ocelot yowling.
Alchemy Specks of star dust borne to earth on a blazing comet tail, atoms oozing in the primordial soup, waiting synthesis with sunâ€™s birthing spark, to drift diffused through prisms of rainbow light, settling in cellules where iron binds carmine haem, pumps aerated life blood through lungâ€™s capillary tree, star seeds locked in keratin, create flawless moon arcs, cosmic dust, womb grown in newborn perfection.
Asking Questions of the Stars What is made of fire does not reply in words of water, yet I have seen you beg the stars for guidance across the sea. Yes, the stars have shared their secrets with many who have asked. I have seen how you flung your net across the sky and hauled out the archer, the lion, the ram. You flung farther, with snares of spun glass, finding distant spires of gas and flame, catching knowledge more precious than diamond. When what you seek lies in the deep abyss, do not look to the heavens for comfort, nor to the constellations for constancy through the night, for as time flows, even stars may show their age, changing from dense, hot jewels into giants. Astronomer, be wary. When you angle for the stars, what you catch may burn you.
Stargazing in the Outback You wanted to camp, so we left the blacktop (you locking the differential for the earth track) and drove for twenty miles into the bush as dusk turned to dark. We pitched our tents by the thin beam of a single torch at a site marked by a pile of gum-tree logs. When our fire died down the only light was old, from unthinkable distance and the whole night hemisphere arched over us, fuzzy-bright with stars, the Magellanic Clouds - galaxies - floating there.
Swedenborg Emmanuel heard voices When he closed his eyes This was not dream stuff Worlds spoke to him In waves expressed as thought Saturn sang to him in a Voice harp-like and soft A ring cycle for him alone Venus at his ear whispered in Erotic undertones bringing A fever to his imagination Mars barked dark oaths That put him in ill temper It was unfortunate that Emmanuelâ€™s fate was to be Scorn and ridicule Tortured to the brink of madness He would sleep no more Till his wakeful terrors Brought such a rest That no dawn could ever breach
Sunward Journey to the sun Youâ€™d think would be easy A straight shot Following your line of Sight The warmth on your face and Through your clothing Light Back along the speed of light But for the curve of things Lazy planets On gravity-strings And impetuous rocks of ice Collecting speed and color Halo Playing off the wall Behind the net Slingshot event To the black Home of stars Where escape or freedom Seems possible Until years return You sunward Where our foreheads move
Very close, some Chakra pull Intimate orbit Your light long hair Aurora over my face Borealis across your Subtle smile And these bodies slowed In space Dancing As we feel Our approach To the Sun Complete.
Edgar RF Herd
Capricorn All day he herds them,
bivouacs as darkness falls sees them in the sky.
Starfish A common asteroid
encrusted with stars,
towers of dermal spines that tiny crustaceans might mistake for plumes
of stellar dust.
Comet Arendt-Roland, 1957
The Sky at Night prompted me out.
The April air felt colder than, later,
the Met Office records showed:
the stars were frosty spicules
glittering in a black, moonless sky.
I walked half a mile into the dark
beyond the town’s last street-light
and climbed a gate so I could see
above the rambunctious hedges:
in the stillness, a feather of light
stretched from the northern horizon,
curving from the long-gone sun.
Neither Hyakutake nor Hale-Bopp,
comets I’ve seen since, quickened --
as Arend-Roland did -- that shivering,
faced by the vastness of the sublime.
The BBC’s first broadcast of The Sky at Night took place on 24 April 1957, hosted by Patrick Moore. It showed photographs of the Arend-Roland comet which was visible from northern latitudes during April of that year.
Telescope There’s a telescope staring at the sky tonight Focusing, yearning for a speck of light For an endless day in a sea of night
Looking out there to make it all right
There are lenses and prisms, and leaded glass
Pulling rainbows and visions and photographs Exposed through years and the tender past To the light of the ages’ most recent pass
But right here, right now I’m aglow with you
Reflecting on what you’ve been through Right here, right now I’m glowing too
Curving toward the radiance of you
Edgar RF Herd
Considering the Kardashev Scale A Type I civilization -- also called a planetary civilization -- can use and store all of the energy which reaches its planet from its parent star. A Type II civilization -- also called a stellar civilization -- can harness the total energy of its planet’s parent star. A Type III civilization -- also called a galactic civilization --can control energy on the scale of its entire host galaxy. (simplified from Wikipedia)
Now let us speak of things you’re yet to do:
let’s take apart those planets we don’t need
and put that mass to other use; let’s produce
machines the size of worlds, from components
the size of atoms; let’s move the stars into a neat
array; let’s have our way with every aspect
of natural law; and let’s, when that becomes a bore,
consider ways in which laws might be repealed;
let’s turn our backs on brute humanity and stroll
-- so cool, so rich, so strange -- into the very small,
the very far, the very long; let’s sing that song
of a hundred million years; let’s edit all the tears
from our experiences; let’s, to be frank,
die no more. Is any of this in your manifesto?
I thought not, and this is why: no!
You cannot rely upon my support
in the forthcoming local government election.
There And Back Again I learn from the stars a host, a myriad of understandings: that I am transient, fleeting; that I am, beyond recognition, so small; that my voice cannot be heard beyond my space, even if I sing out loud, give it my all; that I cannot comprehend infinity, the edges of the unknown or even if there are edges; that beginnings and endings are not within my capacity to know. But even so, we share a common ancestry, and I will be starbound when I go.
Constant Sea Tonight there were oceans in the sky, quicksilver currents I could see through with my fish eye view of the universe. I wanted to test my sight by counting lights on the shores of the Pleiades. They had gone in that small movement as I went to fetch a diagram of stars. Sky became milk thick, white as full moon’s wake in the waters. I can’t look up sisters in space, count them, or count on them for guidance for plain sailing. They’re tricksters and starspeak is a wave form my senses can’t decipher. I turn my ears towards airwaves coming off the ocean; her mouth is always open
for crying out
Did You Cry Professor Rowan? (For Professor Sheila Rowan of Glasgow University whose work contributed to the detection of gravitational waves for which a Nobel Prize was awarded in 2017)
I want to ask you Sheila Rowan, on the 14th of September 2015, did you cry?
The whole of your career had led up to making the mirrors for
LIGO - the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. Tubes four kilometres long suspended by perfect threads of glass with perfect, polished silica mirrors.
Two days after measurements began a signal which lasted for less
than a second but had taken 1.3 billion years to cross the universe arrived. It arrived and stretched the spacetime at your mirrors by less than the
diameter of a proton. Two black holes collided 1.3 billion years ago and you got to sense it in your clever, clever brain.
Talking about it on the radio you sound so homely, as if you were
on Woman’s Hour speaking in your lovely Scottish voice about how to bake a souffle. And yet the art which you have made out of this science is so
exquisite that when I heard about it I tingled from head to foot and a small tear fell down my cheek.
I am so near the earth that even something as insubstantial as my
teardrop has a weight. Did you cry Professor Rowan?
Julie Carter Response: “I am amazed by the breadth of the impact of the detection of gravitational waves - inspiring everything from new musical compositions to plays to the piece published here. It’s interesting also that the writer chooses to highlight the unexpectedness of finding a female voice talking about science - it marks out that this is still not ‘usual’; that we still are gendered in our unconscious associations.”
Or no, wait, that’s not how it begins: Out in the dark, A dance that has lasted ten billion years is reaching its end. Round and round and round. `Quadrupole, not dipole.’ The bulldozers are in the woods now, The delivery driver shouting through the cool of the morning, Clever hands on lasers and mirrors, A hundred students flutter across the stage to shake hands: `What did you work on? -- Oh!’
Round and round and round and -We will paint them with words and numbers Lines of force and rubber sheets and shiny black balls Incomprehensibly vast and silent... Round and round and round and rou --And the phones start to ring.
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”, Men in collars and ties with inky fingers Sitting in the study on a sunny Sunday: `Quiet, children, your father is working,’ Schwarzschild in the trenches, Writing to Einstein though the boom of the guns,
Gender and Perception in Science Editorial essay in response to pieces by Dr. Carter and Prof. Hardcastle regarding gravitational wave detection GW150914. Permission has been sought from the authors for this essay. In December 2018 I spent a month in Northern Iceland on a writing residency, where I was lucky enough to have the opportunity for relative seclusion so I could finish my book. It was in a town where I had lived before, and knew I could survive out there on a tight budget. However, I hadn’t stopped to calculate just how much the value of the pound had crashed as a consequence of Brexit. I also hadn’t stopped to consider what might happen if there was travel drama and I had to spend two weeks’ food money just to avoid missing my flight. Very quickly I ended up with a much tighter budget than expected. What struck me, most of all, was the price of eggs. I don’t know what it is about Northern Iceland in winter that pushes the price of eggs up so high, but I can hazard a few guesses. After joking about the cost of baking a cake, a friend of mine sent me an early Christmas present to help cover living expenses. Because of this, I perversely spent the second half of December obsessed with eggs. As a vegetarian it was a primary protein source. Before December, my egg repertoire revolved around scrambled eggs and the occasional omelette. Yet, given their sudden expense — they only came in packs of a dozen — I experimented with all sorts of recipes for baked eggs, frittatas, poached eggs, and so on. My final plan was to make soufflé. It was going to be my final recipe of the year, my New Year’s Eve extravaganza (ignoring the obvious pun). The short version is that I ended up spending December 31st getting drunk with friends and the soufflé never happened. Then my residency ended, I flew back to the UK, and my finished novel made way for astrophysics work, IT work, and of course this magazine. Soufflé forgotten.
The prose poem by Dr. Julie Carter, Did You Cry Professor Rowan, has got me thinking a lot about perception in research. I wanted to print it because as both an astronomer and author I feel it is important to humanise scientists. This is a direct consequence of my own background: I was pushed into studying astrophysics at the age of 16 whilst most of my friends were still studying GCSEs. I was neither emotionally nor intellectually prepared. Part of the drive to push children into situations such as early university admission comes from a deep-seated societal obsession with brilliance and genius. My teenage self felt under such huge pressure to be exceptional that I was denied the opportunity to just be normal. The pressure to be genius, boffin — whatever you wanted to call it — put me in a position where I felt like a circus performer. When I started University, all the 18-year-olds would stare at me in delight, waiting for me to do something clever. When I couldn’t recite pi to a few million digits, or failed to solve grand unification within days of starting my degree, nobody concealed their boredom or disappointment. In fact, after dropping out of university, I was largely abandoned. Theoretical astrophysics was always my dream. It is no exaggeration to say I wanted to study general relativity from the age of five. There was nothing else I wanted to do. But in those early university classes, I was so out of my depth. The worst part was that I didn’t feel that I could tell anyone that I was struggling, because I was meant to be a genius, and geniuses don’t struggle. Nobody had ever explained that even the smartest people in the world have to learn. My university experience ended sharply. Multifaceted traumas left far deeper marks on me than you might imagine. Not only did I miss my chance to play cartoon genius, I also missed my chance to learn things properly. My childhood dream had been to study mathematical physics at Oxbridge, which rapidly became impossible. The word dehumanisation is not usually associated with inspiration and awe, or the process of putting people on pedestals. The root form of de-, taken from Latin and is commonly clustered as meaning sub, below, lesser. But it more readily means a removal, such as deforestation or deoxygenation. It is about subtraction, being taken away from. Dehumanisation means the subtraction of someone from the remainder of humanity. When we parameterise children, for example, based upon their intelligence or abilities, we are
separating them from humanity. We are dehumanising them, even if the intention is that of celebration. Public perceptions of science are frequently based on the concept of genius. The average human being think that the achievements of Einstein, for example, are well beyond their capacities as people. I do not: Einstein’s breakthroughs were not the pinnacle of maths but imagination. Imagination can be trained, taught. I balk at phrases like genius can be grown, because I balk at the concept of genius. I don’t think it is healthy to try to train children to be geniuses. I think it is healthy to teach them to be talented, curious, imaginative, and conscientious: human, never above-human, or different-to-human, separate-to-human. On this note, I love the humanisation of Professor Rowan in Dr. Julie Carter’s prose poem. Here is a piece celebrating someone whose engineering skills, creativity and talent helped build gravitational wave detectors and lead to the award of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. Moreover, the LIGO and VIRGO gravitational wave detections led to the funding for my PhD, which is about supermassive black hole mergers. Finally, I have been given the opportunity to explore my childhood dream 30 years after first developing it, and I owe that to the huge international effort behind the detection of gravitational waves. Humanising someone in this way is very important, given the detrimental effect of our societal obsession with innate scientific genius. This is precisely the kind of nonsense that alienates the intellectually insecure from science; and, typically, due to social pressures, girls often grow up feeling less sure of themselves than boys do. In turn they feel less certain of having a place in science. However… Gender is a social construct, and we should be mindful about where we are constructing it. From birth, two children with identical interests but different gender identities may find themselves presented with vastly different opportunities and pathways. There may be no difference whatsoever in passions and abilities, but over the years, minor differences in how people are treated will start to add up. Generally speaking, I have never seen any of my nominally male colleagues have their
contributions to the body of human knowledge associated with food. This is probably a shame, because I know many are excellent cooks. Cooking is, after all, a scientific process. What strikes me is that we often don’t try to humanise male scientists. If I walked around my building and asked everyone for their favourite recipe, I know for a fact that a high percentage of my colleagues would respond, regardless gender spectrum. This shouldn’t be surprising. Additionly, I’m not sure how frequently male colleagues are asked if they cried during major breakthroughs. I would imagine there were a lot of tears after the confirmation of the detection of GW150914 and subsequent detections. I’m not sure how many PhD theses were written on the development of instrumentation, simulations and theory behind the discovery but it is... a lot. This is a 100-year story which has woven itself into thousands of lives. The danger is that we humanise female scientists through references to characteristics which are unrelated to their science skills, because this is more comfortable than doing the same with their male counterparts (or those who outwardly present as male, regardless of their actual gender identity). This is usually unintentional. The joy of simply finding more women in science drives a desire to find out what makes them tick and what drove them there. My concern is that we unintentionally contribute to the scientific gender divide by internalising it, rather than solving it. Every scientist is a human being. Some are exceptionally clever, some are exceptionally hard-working, some are both, and there are myriad pathways in between which determine someone’s overall success. Including luck. In reality, the interests and personalities of scientists are often very similar regardless of gender presentation, sexuality, ethnicity, disability and so on. Yet the more protected characteristics a person appears to possess, the more they may find themselves taking on increased intellectual and emotional labour which detracts from research work. A female manager in science may be seen (perhaps erroneously) as more `approachable’ than her apparently male peers, with the implicit assumption that she may be approached more often with minor issues that a male colleague would not.
There are also real barriers which are faced by all minorities in any particular field. Those barriers push capable people out of research. Dr. Carter’s prose poem resonated with me because I could identify with strong admiration of successful women in science during the times when my own desired research career was blocked. Life drops other roles on us that we have to navigate. What am I saying? Personally I’d like to see attempts to humanise all scientists regardless of gender. Another Christmas present from December 2018 was a book of Einstein’s letters gifted by a friend. Einstein was an exceptionally intelligent human being, of course, but he was still a human being. He fought against dehumanisation of other people. In physics, he was a close friend and mentor to the physicist Emmy Noether, who contributed to his theory of general relativity. The humanity that Einstein extended to all people is at odds with the otherness he experienced throughout his life (and death), where his genius was used as justification for violations of decency and privacy. This was highlighted by the posthumous removal of his brain after death, against his own wishes and those of his family. It has never been returned. I liked the related, but entirely coincidental, poem by Professor Hardcastle which also covered gravitational wave detections. As I said, this is a 100 year story -- and a beautiful one. The history of astronomy is amazing. As a child I loved to hear stories about my science heroes, and how they fought for truth and knowledge in a time when people around them were being anything but rational. Those stories of human beings overcoming huge obstacles and pursuit truth regardless is something that has governed my own life. Sometimes the reality of those stories can get a little lost in the noise, and it’s very easy to fall back on assumptions and stereotypes. For example, the x-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, whose work contributed heavily to the discovery of the DNA double helix, is often cited as an example of someone who was excluded from a Nobel prize because of her gender. Actually, she almost certainly would have been awarded the Nobel prize, but she died at the age of 37 and the award was never issued posthumously. There were many women working in her department at the time. Rather than exclusion on the grounds of sexism, she was a valued researcher and well respected by her male counterparts, just like Emmy Noether, and countless other female scientists..
I want to live in a world where none of these characteristics matter. During the years where I was unable to do research, the voices of female scientists simultaneously filled me with hope and anxiety, as if they showed me a way forward but also occupied the lone vacancy for Female Scientist, or other singular identity role. Superficially, these topics may appear unrelated, but in truth they are deeply linked. To recap: science is too often seen as the exclusive domain of geniuses and boffins, and perception distorts access. This is, perhaps counterintuitively, a form of dehumanisation. If someone is seen as being greater than human, through deference to their intellectual qualities, it is only a small step to conclude that others out there are less than human based on characteristics that society finds disagreeable. This perception is unacceptable. In general, the impulse to humanise female scientists is worrisome, since it only occurs through a desire to make women seem homely and accessible. All genders are human. All professions are made of human beings. Humanising women seems like a nice start, but if we do not extend the same to our male colleagues then we will widen the dissociative gap between gender, further perpetuating the myth of male geniuses and less-brilliant, harder-working women battling for any scrap of recognition. This also runs the risk of erasing nonbinary and transgender identities. In the end we are all left to navigate the trends and expectations that are placed upon us, and the tension between this and who we are. Such expectations vary with generation, sociocultural background, educational opportunities and more. Whilst the barriers facing female researchers are very real, I hope that in the future we will not need to have such conversations: that physicists like Emmy Noether and Sheila Rowan will one day no longer be women in science, but simply scientists. As for the punchline of my soufflé story? There isn’t one, except I still haven’t tried to make one. I was going to write about the fundamental nature of spacetime and how the gravitational collapse of merging black holes relates to the structure of puffy eggs, but I didn’t have time. I was too busy writing about gender.
Three Haiku a star does not feel the telescopeâ€™s distant touch -Hubble in winter
clouds below a cord trails through space first walk
monadnock: a lone mountain rises Olympus Mons
Treath-Llfyn Slide my dad is the cleverest man I know he knows intimately how sunsets are made and how the stars revolve, and beam their light over centuries it’s dark when we throng around him or do we just close the heavy curtains
to block out the sky-glow?
like moths, with moths we gather round our ageing projector, my dad kneels as high priest I’m in a rock pool, there puckered anemones blow kisses the sun is a flare and my freckles turn up psychotropic there are tiny fish only I know are there they hide in the shade of my legs I grip the sand like handles, I’m afraid to fall you can drown in two inches of water salt purifying I shade my eyes in which other glorious pools ripple, as if a pebble has been dropped in it is pure white on our screen white that is tidal have I fallen and breathed the saline?
Dustwork The bang has blown, the radiation cooled and before this gets too cosmic -or astrobiologically pedantic -scoop me up, scatter me, blow me into whatever infinity you’re already in.
For Else Lasker-Schuler (1869 - 1945) Editor’s note: this piece refers to a translated poem in the current issue of ‘Acumen’ I read today a star can land in a poet’s lap and I didn’t think I would grasp how this could happen, but her poem landed in my lap and it sings her name.
Under the Stars Under the stars The cold cold stars I wrap myself in a blanket Void of sense Hold close the absurdity of life Gone so quickly - shooting star I smoke philosophy I smoke religion Munch a bite of morality Why not Breathe in the uncaring air Feel my body Molecules formed by chance Molecules waiting to reform I will die, they live on Thinking of nothing Thinking of the freedom The exquisite Heartwarming Joyous freedom To just be To momentarily exist Under the stars.
Eclipse I. It was only a moon The moon And a garden the color of moss Turned a shade of lichen Gray and dolorous Bereft of sun Holding breath In the weighty moment Of the eclipse II. That pit in your stomach Knew the gradual instant That the full eclipse Darkened your blood And left you in the Pull of the planet That has desired you All your life
Against your persistent Stand for hope III. The moon projecting circles Revealing our gray reality Colorless, overcast About to rain Great terrible moons Breaking up in the upper atmosphere Torrential chunks of gray dust Heavy heaven blanketing Our eyes Our great empty hearts The sinking feeling Of our sinkhole guts All neatly filled With moondust
Edgar RF Herd
Flat Earth News St Albans cathedral Sails across the flat earth Preaching to The loft conversions And curtain twitchers Keepers of koi carp Itâ€™s all to do with The angle of the sun And our perception Shakespeare never wrote The sonnets you know All the evidence is there I always seem to get this When I take trains Conspiracies find me Within and without As the curvature of the Earth Takes care of my horizons
Eclipse A dog barks somewhere near a Kentucky cornfield as the moon bites its way across the sun, leaving a cheddar crescent visible through tinfoil lenses. Yet, daylight -- no, something not quite daylight -- prevails. Shadows sharpen. The air cools. Language falters. Grass and trees gain a peculiar sheen. The crescent shrinks at either end. What remains resembles that glob of red-hot glass that melts into Lake Michigan on a perfect summer day. The dog across the road goes silent. Clouds turn to cotton candy on every horizon. I expect a giant shadow to race in from the west but darkness falls from overhead instead-a sudden whoosh -- as cheers rise up from nearby homes and the corona makes its grand appearance. Itâ€™s been called a diamond ring, but itâ€™s too kinetic, rising and shrinking, waving and dancing, as if a sparkler were carving a circle on the sky.
From Cradle to Grave
To begin energy, matter and time expanded into nothing which did not exist.
A uniform universe acquired a history by mutating parameters, a wobble in the maths made gra Stars, planets, suns, moons, air, oceans, water, earth and trees, love and me. Born and dying in my time passing, the future already knows my end. My agency is in doubt. I am a completely random, absolutely unique, perfect imperfection. I cried when my mother told me I was a mistake. Now I understand the universal joke I laugh with all my heart.
avity greedy for stuff, which coalesced like lumps in custard.
Warren Field It always feels strange to come back here, perched on the lip of the land. To know that I grew up the way from this place. Twelve meagre pits, just dirt in dirt, and nothing to see, on the surface. They say it’s mankind’s oldest calendar, ten thousand years, lurking in the land unfound. The Grampians are ancient, oldest of hills. Even when the white-walls first receded, revealing the scrub-scoured granite, melt-water purging and purifying all, sating the giant elk, bear and boar, salivatory runs, red soil, black bogs, those mountains were here. Antediluvian ascents, across which Mesolithic Man would move and hunt, and watch the stars. The same stars I see now, there’s nothing like them, there’s no way to explain to the city-born and the town bound, that feeling of coming home,
when the amber ever-glow from Aberdeen to Glasgow, recedes and is gone. Look at a shot from a satellite, a map of the Earth at night, and you’ll see cartographical constellations, the galaxy reflected, all the kingdom aglow, but for a tiny tic, the smallest speck, in the true North pure darkness reigns.
For sure, it’s dark now, but I’m not cowed, no coward, no fear’t to move by moonlight. I’ve walked these tracks before. Elsick Mounth, they say, is old, and Causey Mounth, Medieval, as far as the records go. But watch how it winds, through the old Durris woods, mind how it meanders, linking ancient landmarks. You can feel it, can’t you? And you can follow the paths, traced out there above. Look up and wonder, as they would’ve done.
Our imagined hero (let’s call him ‘Bradan’ ‘Salmon,’ for wisdom,) would wait watch for the Winter Solstice. He’d see the skies as I see them now, He’d marvel at the Milky-Way, or would it be the Star Fence? The Fort of Gwydion? The Belt of the Shining Lord? He’d see the silver road that split the sky. And there, see! The Skillful One beside the Pell - Epona’s horse Square of Pegasus, the Romans would say. They marched this way you know, on the road to Mons Graupius. And there, look Eastwards they’d recognise the Twins, Castor and Pollux, and would my ancestors see instead Gwynn and Gwrthyr, battling for their lady’s love? Still later Viking traders might observe, the Eyes of Thiassi shining down reminding how Winter isn’t just the end, but a beginning, (until Ragnarok, at least.)
But what might Bradan see? What were the stars for him, I wonder. That great white band, the road of the dead and the bridge of the gods would still stretch as it does now, South and East between the bones, of the horn-cast hills. There there is a break between Cairn Sidhe - the fairy mound and Cairn Monearn - the mournful mount. Then at the turn of the wheel of light, the Winter sun would rise again, aligned with the posts and the hearts of the learned men, who reckoned the days, by the phase of the moon, and felt their souls swell, blood rising, feeling faint, as I feel now, faced with the eyes of the infinite.
Glow Previously published in City Without A Head,Wordsmithery 2013 Have you ever noticed how it never really gets dark anymore? Even during the putative earth daytime we shun elemental light for the delights of toiling away in halogen dungeons getting pixel burn on the back of our retinas. Of course one of the primary facets of addiction is that one can never see it in oneself. It has become second nature to stagger blinking from our cells peering at the backlit screen that we have not had the nerve to peek at for the last four hours. Scurrying forth in search of busses permanently illuminated inside and out for fear of litigation. Or down holes in the ground similarly fitted out for very similar reasons. Red eyed and fevered we stumble home and fumble, reach for the switch, pull the cord, turn the dial. Made uneasy by silence, by stillness, but most of all by darkness. We have since birth been taught to fear true elemental darkness. It is a species memory that we simply cannot erase. It is this primal dread that created the spark that created the fire we once clustered around. Not without reason in truth, beasts once lurked in the woods of England and still do, of a sort in other places. But that’s not it is it? As children we feared the thing under the bed would get us once the switch was flicked but we are children no more. surely the monsters are all banished back into our imagination. All we have to fear in the night is our own reflection and that is our collective terror. We fear being alone in our own heads. It’s why we need our hit. But it hurts doesn’t it? This eternal monochrome. It varies in its intensity but you couldn’t call it light. It’s as though the states of light and darkness have reached some form of negotiated peace brokered my phosphorescent middle men. We have merely negated a negation.
Don’t your eyes hurt? So tired aren’t you? We are slowly losing our circadian perspective. That thing in the sky is no lily to be eternally gilded in its presence then replicated when it leaves us. So we have attained the power to negate the heavens. Masters of the universe. But we have lost our anchors, our objects. It is no easy thing to face the day when one no longer knows where it begins and ends. From a distance it all looks so beautiful. A bowl of precious gems sparkle on the horizon. Strings of pearls beckon us to follow them like breadcrumbs out of the forest to safety. If only we had known. It’s just not worth it. The raised blood pressure. The muscle spasms. The increased risk of cancer. The sagging cheekbones. Switch it all off why don’t you. Watch the LEDs die away and exhale. Just close your eyes and accept that we all sleep alone. You’ll feel better in the morning. What was that noise? Oh, trust me, it’s probably nothing.
What The Comet Sang I woke up certain that all we’re here for is to discover connections so when one poet on the web shares a sound that’s never reached earth before and another poet online says That’s like this sound I know we grasp not only a comet we land on can sing much like a nightjar but this our universe of connections knows no bounds
Grandson So briefly he lit his region of the sky, our telescopes are still turned on his few seconds of arc.
Issue 2 of Until the Stars Burn Out, a magazine devoted to poetry and astronomy.