I wanted to return today to Nasa Administrator Mike Griffin’s public lecture at the Royal Society because of one particular element that surprised and delighted me. During his talk about Man’s great history of exploration, Dr Griffin drew attention to that great scourge of astronomers, light pollution.
The fearful and paranoid switch on ever more lights in a misguided bid to seek security. In so doing, they deny today’s and future generations the opportunity to see and appreciate their place in the universe.
Dr Griffin said: “One of the minor misfortunes of modern life in our major cities is that our night-time lighting has drowned out our view of the rich constellation of stars and planets in the night sky, and we find other idle pursuits, such as television, to occupy our time.
“Thus, we today do not look up nearly as often to marvel at the beauty and mystery of the night sky as did our ancestors, who imagined the stars to represent constellations of mythological beasts and legends, while the planets represented gods.
“I am happy that we have progressed beyond this. To me the view of Hadley Rille from a camera mounted on the Apollo lunar rover is more exciting than imagining the moon to be the huntress Diana. But, there is no question that we modern folk are less concerned with the heavens than were our ancestors.”
Dr Griffin further confirmed his commitment to science by recognising the importance of repairing the Hubble space telescope, the greatest ambassador that astronomy has today.
He said: “Last month I made the decision, the culmination of 18 months of work by Nasa engineers and scientists, that we could effectively and safely conduct a space shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope to extend the life and capabilities of this great observatory.
“I have been struck by the tremendously positive response this decision has received, by the way that people from all over the world have been awed and inspired by Hubble pictures revealing a few of the secrets of our universe.
“Hubble provides glimpses into the universe that are far, far beyond the scale of the astronomical unit, the objective for Cook’s first voyage to the South Pacific. The view of our vast universe provided by Hubble uplifts us; it gives us a measure of hope.”
The satellite picture shows how the USA and its major cities are clearly visible from space at night from the escaping glow of their lights. Photo: The International Dark-Sky Association.
• For more space reading, plus other bargains, check out the Skymania store!