Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Dash of Milk Cream on the Black Coffee @ Madikwe

I thought I should mention it in a separate blog, because this experience deserves a dedicated chapter.
The visit to the Madikwe game reserve was planned for obvious reasons – something Africa is known for. The wildlife. But while the days were exciting, the nights were mysterious. You need to look up – and what would follow would be silence.
As I had mentioned in my previous blog, the Tau Lodge was totally designed for the wild. Wouter and I shared a room which had no TV (thankfully), dim lights and silence. There was a balcony which I stepped into, while things were pitch dark. All I could see in front of me was pitch darkness as I was unsure whether I am all alone in this wooden balcony which ran straight into the plains/forest.
But when I looked up, I realised I was staring at something I wasn’t prepared for. Several times in the past, I had come across pictures of it on the Internet but wasn’t sure whether those were photoshopped. But here I was – looking a the real thing. Somebody had spilled a bucket of milk on the otherwise dark platform ! No wonder they called it the Milky Way !
Milky Way_1
The Milky Way from our Balcony. Taken through a Canon F1.8. But I must confess that this photo stands nowhere near the actual stuff.
The black circular centre is a supermassive Black Hole. 
We have read about it in the books, for ages. Learnt about about it as we grew up. And felt jealous of the blessed ones who went on a spaceship and saw it from outer space. Till recently (a year ago I think) I came across a website that splashed the best taken Milky Way pictures from earth. And how blessed I am to stare it right now.
The phenomenon had puzzled astronomers for centuries. From Aristotle to Al-Biruni, astronomers had come up with n number of theories of what it actually is and what it is composed of. It was Galileo finally, who first came up with the most proper explanation of the Milky Way. Have googled enough, but haven’t so far been able to dig out the name of the person who came up with such an appropriate name. But its worth mentioning a few stats -
  1. It appears to be a static mass of stars and cloud matter, but - the gases and the stars in the Milky Way are actually moving at roughly 250 km/sec.
  2. Much of the mass in the Milky Way does not absorb electro-magnetic radiation (hence Kepler’s Laws do not apply here).
  3. Most importantly - The solar system is 27,000 light years away from the centre of the Milky Way. That means, the cloudy matter I was staring at is not from now, but that light is 27,000 years old ! Now consider the fact that the great migration (homo sapiens moving out of Africa to the rest of the world) was completed 35,000 years ago. Isn’t that a great connection?

Isn’t it a marvelous feeling to realise that, when that piece of light started its journey, to reach me today, at that very moment my great ancestors had also started their journey (to explore the rest of the earth) – from this very soil where I stand?

We all admitted, that whichever part of the world we have been from, none has witnessed a sky like this. The clarity of the sky, scattered with millions of stars, is probably a blessing. It reminds us how vast the universe is and how tiny we are. It also reminds us you don’t need to come to Africa to witness this scene – you can catch it from even your garden, or your rooftop. But it eludes us only because we choose to – by blinding ourselves with a blurry cover of smoke and dust.
Another shot from our balcony. Shows the Milky Way over the vast landscape.
It is also a revelation for us – that our ancestors only a 100 years ago, probably had this view too. And only because they had the privilege of witnessing this each night, that they picked up Astronomy as a subject. And hence we had the Platos and the Aristotles gazing at this their entire lives. How many children of our times desire to be an astronomer? They don’t, simply because they don’t get to “see” what the thing is like !

Bring on our children, show our children this sky – and watch them all fall in love – what should remain forever, as their first ever love !

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