Month: January 2020

Transients

Transients

I am an amateur astronomer. I have been one since childhood – I remember my parents used to show me the stars to calm me down when coming home after I had to get my vaccinations in the middle of the night when I was four or five years old.

There aren’t many of us left now. Back in the day, the first astronomers were the early humans that started to understand that, by watching when certain points of light rise and set, they could predict when seasons were about to start and end, when the harvest was ready and so on. And from time to time, they were witnessing something we call today transients – bright points of light appearing suddenly in the night sky – novae or supernovae (the explosion of massive stars at the end of their life). It must have been terrifying…

But in a certain way, we ourselves are transients – like stars, we shine for a period and then fade into nothingness one way or another. And it’s hard to write about this… because I want to tell you about some astronomer friends I have lost over the last few years…

Nic – I met Nic over the internet, when I was back in Romania, many years ago. He had a witty weekly article in Academia Catavencu, something sort of mix of The Onion and Charlie Herbo. I remember I commented on an article, he replied, and then we met about one year later, when I moved to Bucharest. We met and discussed astronomy, funny physics bar experiments and he even invited me to write on the online version of Academia Catavencu. I was so proud… a few years later, as my life changed when I left Romania, we talked sparingly online – it was not an easy period for me. Nic, I still remember that I didn’t manage to reply to your last message you sent me. Not long after that, Nic left us for the stars. I regret to this day that I didn’t write you back…

Tom – I met Tom years ago at a public outreach event held by the local astronomical society. He was one of the few people that accepted me and made me feel welcome. We travelled together in his car to the local astronomical observatory and he got me involved in the construction of a new observatory. I remember going to his home and doing calculations and measurements for the dome and telescope, and going at other public outreach events and talking with interested people about the stars. Tom left us before getting to one of the outreach events, the day of a Total Lunar Eclipse I remember to this day…

John – I met John at a local outreach event. From his position, as a professional, may I say world-leading astronomer, he wanted to speak with *me*… of the work I had done as an amateur astronomer in variable stars and asteroids. To my regret, we never managed to speak in depth about this, but I keep dear in my mind one night we spent with the group in a curry restaurant and John showed us his famous magic tricks. He loved public outreach and science communication. He left us in November…

Marcel – Marcel was a young Romanian amateur astronomer. He simply loved outreach and kids loved him. He was a kind person, helping others over and above. I remember his passion and his help at guiding beginners when we first set up a Romanian astronomy group. He stayed above all the petty discussions our amateur community had, and he helped and congratulated all of us no matter what “tribe” we came from. We lost Marcel yesterday, far far far too soon…

The way I view the world makes me rage even more. I believe that there is no afterlife, and no matter how hard I want to believe in this, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So I know I will most likely never meet the lost ones, and that they’re gone forever. For all intents and purposes, what’s left of us at the end of this is out material shell, made from atoms created at the beginning of the universe or in the cores of dying stars. All that remains are these… nuclear ashes, and memories that hopefully will not fade away very soon…

Good night, and clear skies