Friday, November 14, 2008

Venus is so bright tonight

A lovely spring evening - as the sun set, I was sitting in the garden with my good friend the geophysicist I. Moffat, drinking red wine and watching how Venus caught the light of the dying sun. Mercury, also pretty spectacular. I thought to myself: I am looking at the planetary surface where the Veneras and the Vegas (complete with their diamond and sapphire windows) are sitting on the surface letting the slow winds caress them, an erosion process that will see them still intact when the solar system is at its last gasp.

Remembering also, that as a child I was fascinated by Babylonian observations of Venus. They seemed all the more mysterious, scientific and profound because I myself could not really see the stars. I was short-sighted from early childhood, and everything in the sky looked blurry to me. I also could not understand how my father recognised species of bird (he was a Neville W. Cayley fan from way back), assuming that some people could see things in patterns of flight that I was simply not capable of. Well, all that changed when I got glasses at age 11 - I could tell a planet from a star after all! And I could tell those bloody birds apart. Perhaps the heavens were so entrancing because I could not really see them. Perhaps the allure of science was all the stronger because of blurry vision ....

But possibly I digress. Venus is so bright tonight and I imagine myself a Babylonian astronomer, observing its phases. Taking the accumulation of traditional knowledge, thinking Tiamat (or whoever it was), and arriving at plausible theories for what was happening. Those guys were way cool.

I mentioned the red wine, right?

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