Well hello there. Over the next three months I'm going to be going from Japan to Australia and New Zealand... via 2 months spent on a big boat in the North Pacific. I'm part of the scientific team for IODP Expedition 324, which aims to sample deep basement rocks from a giant underwater volcanic-plateau called 'Shatsky Rise'. Should you be interested, you can follow what I'm up to here...

Friday, 23 October 2009

A thousand million twinkling lights

You’ve never seen stars like it.
I’ve never seen stars like it.
It’s breathtaking.

We switched off most of the lights onboard for the transit, plunging the boat into inky blackness at night for the first time.
The whole sky from unseen watery horizon to horizon was a black sphere, stretching up infinitely into the cosmos, peppered with the glowing orbs of the brightest stars.
At first, just the familiar ones you occasionally see through the orange-stain of the city back home; The Plough, Orion’s belt, Cassiopeia and so on. But as your eyes adjust to the gloom and you stare ever deeper into the blackness, your familiar friends are joined by more and more points of light, appearing as if they were winking into existence for the very first time tonight.
Until the whole sky is aglow with them.

In the city, or most other places on land I’ve ever been, there’s just too much light-pollution to appreciate that stars have a unique shine of their own.
“Starlight” is just a trite expression without meaning.
But they really do glow.
On a dark, moonless night in the Pacific, you can start to pick out the top of the white-capped waves and the faintest hint of storm clouds in the far distance by the starlight alone. The heavens appearing to rock gently back and forth above you, until you grasp that it's not the sky moving but the boat riding the Ocean swell beneath you.

And every once in a while, a shooting star will streak across the sky leaving a trail of white burned on your retina.
A glorious final hurrah for a little piece of space rock, having spent an eternity spinning alone through the solar system before disappearing in a blaze of transient glory in our atmosphere.

As if I didn’t already feel tiny and insignificant enough floating in the middle of the largest ocean on Earth, for the first time -peering into the depths of our Galaxy, which is after all, only one of millions of galaxies in the Universe- I realised how much we don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Lord knows I’m not a religious person, but that was pretty transcendental.
I guess night-shift has its perks after all...


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