Thursday, 24 September 2015

A change of perspective.

What sort of moments changed the world?  They are often catastrophic. Sometimes natural, perhaps a huge meteorite hits the earth and causes a dust storm that blacks out light and heat, eventually leading to the demise of the dinosaur.  Other times they are events initiated by human action, the assassination of Martin Luther-King, the deployment of atomic bombs in Japan or the most destructive act of terrorism on record, the attack on The World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001. There can be little doubt that this was truly a moment that changed the world. Like a pebble dropped into a pond, the waves of repercussion are still developing over a decade later.

 I was driving home from work when I heard about it on my car radio.  I reached home in time to see the second plane hit the second tower, in full and awful colour . Until that world changing moment, the first aircraft having crashed into the first tower, was still potentially,  a tragic accident.  I watched what looked like a blockbuster movie unfold in real time, on the edge of my seat, barely able to believe what I was seeing. Man's inhumanity to man.

I am not going to dwell on 9/11 today.  There are other world changing moments that have happened less violently, more gracefully and after centuries of methodical record keeping and research. They are quiet moments but in their own way they rock the bedrock, upset established ideas and they definitely change the world.

"In Greek mythology, Atlas was the powerful God, who carried the Earth on his shoulders, supporting the heavens from the Atlas mountains in North Africa, still one of the best places to view the night sky... They looked into the sky to understand their place in creation, and the movement of the stars told them one thing: they were at the centre of the universe." (Prof Brian Cox , 2011).

Polaris, The North Star is almost exactly aligned with the Earth's spin axis, so this was the natural assumption to make. The Greeks had observed Mars, seeming to loop in the sky, as long ago as 1534BC but didn't know what caused it.  In 150 AD Claudius Ptolemaeus published The Almagest, a complete explanation of the complex movement of planets and stars. For over a thousand years the Ptolemic view of the Solar System was unchallenged., with Earth at its centre and all other bodies revolving around it. Religion embraced this perspective to establish man as the most important of God's creations. Not everyone was convinced.

In 1543, following decades of observation, Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, published a new theory, On The Revolutions of Celestial Spheres, in which he firmly denounced the Earth centric view by explaining the reason for the looping retrograde motion of Mars across the night sky.  Heads were turned, bishops' mitres were shaken and there was a general ruckus within the walls of the Vatican. It would take until 1610 for Galileo to map the movement of Jupiter's four moons and give total credence to Copernicus's theory, upsetting what was for many,  a deeply held belief.  A moment ... followed four hundred years later by another moment that changed the world. Or at least our view of the world. 




Heliocentricity 

I’m speeding round the sun today at 30K per sec,
No wonder it’s so hard for me to write.
I’m lapping Mars in retrograde.
He’s slow and I don’t see him every night.
There are many slower planets sitting in the outside lanes,
I see them in the darkness,
I even know their names.
I marvel at them every time I pass.
Travelling in celestial clockwork,
how they seem belies their mass.

I am pillion on a planet that’s designed to such specifics,
it keeps me fed and watered and in comfort for the ride,
tilted at the perfect pitch towards a mighty power,
that seasonally warms me and then warms the other side.

For eons, man believed the Earth was central to it all,
a theory that served the purpose of religion, after all.
But when he saw Mars charge the sky,
then loop into reverse,
Copernicus declared us heliocentric.
The Papal frock was hoisted.
They said he was eccentric
but science was born to lead them into light.

And so we race around the sun,
as other planets do.
That’s why we’re here.
That’s why we are.
The Earth.
And me.
And you.


Thanks for reading. Adele

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