My name is Susan Young. I am a writer. I love the stars above everything. I love the Kalahari. So I decided to set off with my dog, Waldo, my telescope and my tea-brewing kit and wander around under the Kalahari’s pristine dark skies, star-gazing all night long, every night long.
My greatest passion in life is astronomy. Here’s why:
Take a moment and imagine that you are standing beneath a beautiful starry sky. You look up and peer out into the universe…
You… a little piece of star stuff peering into the universe through the thinnest skin of air surrounding an ordinary rock that orbits a nondescript star at the edge of a typical spiral galaxy, one among billions, all of it travelling who knows where through the vast emptiness we call space.
You… a single player in this vast cosmic play, standing there, looking past streams of stars into time and space… and feeling overcome with a feeling of immeasurable beauty and awe.
That feeling of immeasurable beauty and awe is at the root of my love for astronomy.
The universe is awe-inspiring at every level: from the quantum mechanics that govern the motion of elementary particles to the largest galactic clusters. And most awe-inspiring of all: we’re a part of it, our atoms forged in the hearts of exploding stars. It boggles the mind that the nuclear waste from the fuel that makes stars shine, somehow gathered itself together and evolved a species that are beginning to understand the unfathomable.
Astronomy is a culmination of everything that matters to the human race. Beauty, curiosity, hope, adventure, excitement, wonder, danger, awe, the need to explore, wanting to know why the universe is organised like it is and how it’s evolving, the need to know where we came from and where we are going, and, of course, wanting to know if we are alone.
One can always look into the night sky and say with definitive certainty that the answers to everything are out there, carried to us from the furthest reaches of the universe by that cosmic time traveler, light.
And then there’s the beauty. Clusters of glittering jewels set against black velvet; clouds of gas and dust birthing new stars, balls of crushed diamonds containing stars almost as old as the universe, the intricate glow of distant galaxies, the remains of dead stars, the rings of Saturn…
What’s not to love about astronomy?
Ask astronomers what triggered their interest, and most will tell you about an early encounter with the night sky – a comet, a meteor shower, or their first glimpse of another planet. When I was a little girl at Melsetter boarding school in then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), we were woken up one night in October 1965 and taken out to see the great sun-grazing Comet Ikeya-Seki, which proved to be one of the brightest comets seen in the last thousand years, and is sometimes known as the Great Comet of 1965.
It was the most beautiful and awe-inspiring thing I had ever seen. The sight of it flying above the Chimanimani Mountains is seared into my memory. And every time I look through my telescope I see other beautiful and awe-inspiring things. There is no end to them.
How long do I intend dallying amongst the stars in the Kalahari?
For a while. I’ve also lugged along my portable salt mine…. Luckily, as a writer I can have my office out on a camping table under a camel thorn tree beside a red sand dune and write the corporate material I need to write (and enjoy writing) for corporate clients to fund my star-struck life.
He has been the most faithful of little companions, and I love him with all my heart.
Star-gazing never really gripped him – he couldn’t see the point of sitting out in the cold and dark all night… not when you can be tucked up snugly in a comfortable bed with feather pillows and a duvet.
Then my darling star-gazing obsessed dog, Daisy, who had observed with me every night for years and years went to the stars – and the first evening I took the telescope out without her, Waldo walked out… looked at the telescope… looked at me… looked at the big hole in space where Daisy used to be… and lay down. He’s been out star gazing with me ever since.