Monday, 25 June 2018

Saturn revisited

I rarely sketch the Moon or planets. They're terribly demanding objects if you want to capture them properly and all in all I've never been a passionate planetary observer. Perhaps I'm still influenced by my childhood, when I passed many happy Saturday mornings (and nights) at the Urania observatory near Antwerp, Belgium. After a one-year introductory course we got to choose between the various working groups in order to participate in miscellaneous projects under the supervision of the group leaders. These groups were i.a. Solar System, Comets and Meteors, Weather, Photography and during my final year there was even a Maths Group! Can you believe it? 14-15 year old kids that go to the observatory on a free Saturday to study Math! Hardly surprising they only had two members.

Without a minute's hesitation I chose Deep Sky, the group that focused on everything beyond our solar system. It was by far the most popular group and it also had the funniest and most popular leaders. There used to be some sort of playful rivalry between the groups and especially Deep Sky became increasingly notorious for havoc and disaster. We disturbed a funeral whilst measuring the speed of sound (because the guys making the sound pulses simply didn't realise what was going on at the church at the other side of the car park), we broke down a three-dimensional model of dozens of stars of Ursa Major which had taken others months to assemble (it was an accident, I swear) and someone had mistaken the weather group's rain gauge for a urinal (it looked exactly the same anyway). Later, when leadership of the Deep Sky group passed on to me, this didn't improve at all and on many occasions we touched the very limit of what the others considered bearable. That being said, in spite of being noisy and a bit out of control, no-one can deny that eventually we were the most productive and passionate group of them all. In the era before Internet and mobile phones we had organised a telephone chain and minutes after I had given the alert we were all on our way to the observatory to do an all-nighter of serious deep-sky with the good old (and very awkward) 25cm Kutter telescope. We laughed and we cheered and we booed at the other groups, we went to the chip shop at 1 and to the baker's at 4 (for oven-fresh buns - you had to see the baker's face when we entered his workshop at this rather unusual hour) and we watched the sun go up from the telescope tower's balcony (and we watched the neighbours opening the curtains of their bedrooms in peejays... and closing them again right away). But in the end we all went home with a map full of new drawings and dreams of the many sparkling or faint objects we had observed. We became a bunch of eternal friends and we took the oath of Deep Sky forever. 

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Tension between the various groups escalated into a serious conflict and after 5 years of dedicated leadership I was given the sack. It's something that I still feel bad about, although I must admit that my autistic nature didn't provide me with the maturity to run the group properly. On the other hand I daresay that Deep Sky had become so popular, especially under my leadership, that I had to manage twenty kids whereas the other groups hardly had any members left. Perhaps because children need some time off during the weekends and prefer doing astronomy in a playful way, not in detention? Yet, even if all of this hadn't happened, I realise now that nothing can last forever and eventually even I, the perpetual, curious, autistic kid, had to grow up. 

The disdain for the Moon and planets's still a bit there though. :-)


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