Above and Below – or All Around

Every once in a while you decide something, or just do something that changes your life. Two days ago I returned from an exploration of astronomical facilities across Arizona and New Mexico, the equipment they use, the technologies they integrate, and the people whose passion it is to utilize them for their celestial studies.

I approached this journey as a superficial sampling of that which comprises the astronomical community to gain a better understanding of their topology from which to identify facets requiring deeper inquiry from my own predominant information systems perspective.

I learned far more than I expected. I felt far more than I imagined.

There is a rugged and passionate aspect to astronomy. Of the passion I had no doubt, but the ruggedness surprised me.

I suppose that space bourn observational platforms are truly the ultimate in ruggedness. Unfortunately, our shortcomings in developing technologies that allow people to live and work realistically in space have abstracted astronomers from these distanced tools. This seems to me a pity when considering the intimacy that is so beneficial between the observer and their instrumentation.

Earth bound observatories, though historically limited by the nature of celestial light passing through the atmosphere that sustains us, provide a hands-on, tangible and immediate connection between the astronomers, their instrumentation, and their distant object of interest. Even some of these are operated entirely by remote control; the observer collecting information in some far-away location. But you can easily recognize the facilities built with a more grand purpose in mind – the facilities built to accomplish something greater. They are built with human interaction in mind, hands-on, solid, with all the love and hate required for any passion.

All the observatories I visited require a journey to distance ourselves from our civilization so we might see the things beyond our current understanding and explore them. From the perspective of the scientist, we are too dazzled by our own light to see beyond. From the perspective of the poet, well… yes.

Along the way I met many very interesting and wonderful people. I reunited with some dear old friends, and I had the greatest fortune to discover a few new ones.

More than anything, I realized that I had forgotten myself in many ways. And in even more ways, rediscovered.

I’ll be writing more specifically about this journey in the days to come. For now, it is good being back where the sea fills the air.