Does Scientific Reality Ruin Poetic Beauty & Inspiration? – Editorial

celestial-event-scale-new

Those who regularly see my posts on social media or this website know It’s a major pet peeve of mine when certain celestial events get over-hyped when in reality they are pretty much non-events.

It also irritates us when casual viewers show excitement about such non-events, yet never follow up any interest when we try to present celestial events that actually are impressive and inspirational to casual and dedicated viewers alike!

Sure, I’m happy that people show a degree of interest in the cosmos, but the last thing I want is for them to get the wrong information, or get over excited for something that really isn’t that rare or all that impressive!

The biggest example of course is either a “Super Moon” or just about any time a particular full moon’s traditional name shows up in the news headlines, or if it happens to be on a holiday. Recently, since there was a full moon on Halloween night in 2020, I had to be the breaker of bad news when people kept asking me things like “so is there anything special about this moon tonight?” “Wait, you mean it’s not actually going to look blue?!”

So yes, seeing their interest wane because of over hyped non-events can be a letdown even for dedicated observers. And quite frankly, I think media headlines promoting a particular full moon insult the reader’s intelligence with words like “how to spot {insert full moon name}.” Like really, are their words insinuating that the reader really thinks they can see it through their drywall and not have the sense to go outside and look up?!

But of course, I’m often labeled as the stuck up bully for pointing this out.

In the context behind the use of the phrase “click bait,” I mean sources that hype up events that are in reality not very spectacular. If I’m calling out sources as click-bait, it’s because they’re presenting themselves as factual yet giving out the wrong information that may set up a casual viewer for disappointment!

When I say casual observer, I mean people who are not deep into {amateur} astronomy observing like I am or dedicate time to know where everything in the sky is and when notable celestial events happen. I’m NOT saying they are illiterate nor posses any knowledge of the cosmos. This website, nor my public outreach activities wouldn’t exist without casual observers wanting to be guided to the right information!

Because I often point out the falsities behind such “click bait” claims as a “spectacular super moon” or “amazing meteor shower” in an attempt to get the correct information out, I can come across as pretentious and condescending to people who don’t understand where my perspective comes from.

I spotted science inspired Facebook page sharing a supposed image of a planetary alignment as seen from Mars.  But there was no credit claiming where the image came from, nor any date for people to refer to something easily check-able thanks to planetarium software! But when I mentioned that the respective planets’ positions in the solar system on the date that image was shared meant the image in question was in fact fake and factually incorrect, I got scolded with comments telling me to “shut up and let us enjoy it!”

So yes, even if my intentions are in the right place, to a casual observer I’m being a dick.

Therefore, an argument can be made that too much factual information can ruin the poetic mystique behind the celestial sights.

A casual witnessing a black sky full of stars for the first time and getting that sense of primitive mysticism may not appreciate it when someone like me presents the sky and shows what and where everything is.  A person who loves the sight of a blood moon may not like the actual mechanisms that cause the appearance. It’s the same reason why many people have varying levels of interest in astrology – it’s fun, they like the ideas behind it, and hearkens back to the time before actual science split from magic.

So it’s understandable that people can get sensitive when I may call sources they share as “click-bait articles” or point out what’s wrong or inaccurate about what’s being shared. People will tell me, “just show an appreciation for what’s going on!”

To a casual observer, a naked eye full moon is a romanticized poetic inspiration that adds beautiful lighting to the landscapes. But to an astronomer, a full moon is a nuisance that washes out the sky, looks bland and mostly featureless through a telescopes, and can actually hurt your eyes while looking at one through it. Every time the words “spectacular” and “full moon” are used in the same sentence, an astronomer cringes.

To a casual viewer, any time people know a meteor shower is happening whether weak or strong, it’s an event that hearkens back to a time when sudden bursts of shooting stars caused excitement to those who didn’t know why they happened. To an astronomer, strong meteor showers and storms will still do that, but weak showers are non-events that are indistinguishable from a common night – one star party guest once pointed “I saw more shooting stars tonight during a non-shower than I saw during one.” People like us simply want promotion around showers WORTH losing sleep over!

Casuals and dedicated observers alike will both agree about the poetic beauty of things like eclipses, conjunctions, and comets. They’re great astrophotography targets and I love shooting them!

However, in the case of a penumbral lunar eclipse, it will hardly be noticed by casual observers, hence why I try to get that information out. If it’s not going to be the show people expect, then what’s wrong with warning people?

Do I deem all poetic and artistic sources as “click-bait?”Am I against works of art inspired by astronomy?

Of Course Not! If it’s Accurate, I’m All For it!

Astronomers needing a visual representation of something that hasn’t, or will possibly never be directly observed will often hire painters and artists to make such depictions. Up until a team of astronomers figured out a way to get a real image of a distant black hole in the M87 galaxy, accurate depictions of black holes based on the needed criteria and data were always done by artists!

I love that celestial sights can inspire people to write poetry, or compose other pieces of art. Astrophotography in itself is art and there’s no wrong way to shoot the sky! Most of the images I do are trying to showcase what objects would look like through a telescope should your eyes be able to accumulate the required light. But i also appreciate astrophotographers who compose images to be more poetic and artsy, such as my friend and colleague who runs darkskymatters.com. I love meeting and connecting with fellow astrophotographers!

I’m also fond of stuff being named after celestial sights or objects. Why wouldn’t I be? After all, I have two cats, one named Andromeda and Glendo (the town I saw the 2017 Great American Eclipse)!

As a major aficionado of heavy metal music, I am especially appreciative of heavy metal bands that draw their musical or lyrical inspirations from astronomy! One of my favorite bands, Nightwish, in 2020 released a song called Shoemaker, which is tribute to Eugene Shoemaker. Their 2015 album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful has other songs that are inspired by science and astronomy.  One of these days I’ll post about my favorite “Space Metal” albums and songs.

So, does actual knowledge ruin the mystique?

No!

If it did, we wouldn’t keep having works of art inspired by and dedicated to astronomy! The “magic” of the night sky, and wonder behind how things actually work when it comes to  celestial sights I can argue can be a lot more wondrous when you gain a simple understanding of what causes them. Just because science can debunk the magical properties doesn’t mean the universe itself isn’t a magical place!

When you leave behind the primitive way of thinking and can grasp what astronomers have been trying to understand for hundreds of years, you can gain an even bigger reverence for the cosmos! The more I understand it, the more reverence I gain, and every time I’m out in the middle of nowhere composing more astro images, it’s a humbling thing when you’re out there with nothing but the elements and the cosmos surrounding you! 

Like I’ve always said, the universe itself is a very chaotic and hostile place. The fact that we exist the way we do is in itself a miracle considering we could all die out tomorrow if the mechanisms behind the universe decide it so.

I’m all for people gaining poetic and spiritual inspiration from celestial sights and events. All I’m trying to do is guide them towards the correct information and help them witness the sights that are inspirational even to dedicated astronomers!

Every astronomer and casual viewer alike has that one thing of the cosmos that always triggers that inspiration and desire. For me, it’s comets. For others it’s eclipses, or meteor showers, or conjunctions, planetary oppositions, or just viewing the true night sky. Rightfully so, I need to understand that nuisances like a full moon or other non-events may not be inspirational to me, but it can be inspirational to others.

But if you see me post memes about full moons or people’s obsessions with them like these:

I’m merely making a joke that has truth behind it. This is what dedicated observers deal with on a regular basis! If you yourself are a full moon aficionado, and get excited every time a super moon gets announced complete with different names to hype it up, then who am I to tell you not to be impressed.

But trust me, if I ruin the mystique around full moons because I show lack of interest in them, that’s because there’s a ton of celestial sights in the sky to get inspired by that actually look impressive through a telescope – that’s all I’m trying to say!

If you read this and made it this far, I’d love to hear your opinions on this subject, whether you disagree or agree! Please comment below!

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One thought on “Does Scientific Reality Ruin Poetic Beauty & Inspiration? – Editorial

  1. I like your Celestial Event Scale.
    Did I get out of bed early to see today’s penumbral lunar eclipse? Not on your Nelly!
    Would I observe it, if it was during the early evening here in Oz? Possibly – if only to confirm to myself that it was not worth the bother!

    Liked by 1 person

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