atmosphere

Sky blues

I have to remonstrate with myself in the middle of weeding the fruit patch. I need to take breaks more often than I want to. I’m far from my twenties now, and since then have clocked up forty odd years doing desk work.

Now that I’m master of my own time, more of that time is spent doing physical things: as well as tending the gardens, there’s the diy – building jobs, woodworking, decorating, and ordinary maintenance chores such as cleaning the windows, cleaning the gutters and drains, and generally cleaning! To say little of running 5 kilometres or more, every third day.

So, I strike the fork into the dug soil, and taking up my mug of tea I sit down on the wooden sleeper border edging the vegetable plot to contemplate the day.

It is sunny. Between the high hedge and power lines which run across the back of our garden, the sky is a beautiful uninterrupted blue. I think of Yuri Gagarin. Someone must. He was the first human to leave the Earth without having to die.

27 years old and seen the world

Briefly, from his point of view, he saw how thin the blue film enveloping our planet was from outer space; how fragile it looked before petering out into the overwhelming and utterly vast vacuum of black space. Like clingfilm covering a cantaloupe melon.

Through religion first, and then in more modern times science fiction, we have learnt to delude ourselves and avoid thinking of our world-home as being anything short of firm and secure. Even the true sciences deal with a robust mechanism, holding it all together: the climate may change but it will still exist in some form. Will it be blue; bluer, or paler? Will anyone be around to tell?

People all over often wonder whether there is life on other planets; it’s a wonder to me how there’s life on this one.

Venus is Hell

I dropped in on the BBC iPlayer app the other day. It’s been a while as I’ve not been enthusiastic about BBC TV for a long time; it’s played too safe and formulaic.

However, Professor Brian Cox’s latest presenting vehicle, The Planets, caught my attention. The CGI graphics in the previews reminded me of the artist’s impressions of the imagined landscapes of real planets, which featured in the weekly encyclopaedia I was given as a kid. They might have been illustrated by Angus McBride who did the mythical beasts I blogged about before, but I don’t actually know. The landscapes were quite fanciful and earth-like, with graceful though strangely coloured clouds, and often featured multiple moons or planetary rings in the sky.

The Planet‘s planets are a whole different ball game. Based on real information sent back by probes, it shows a stark and horrifically hostile environment on each of our terrestrial neighbours. Venus, for example, is described as “Hell” compared to Earth’s heaven, while Mars, hoped to be the most plausible for human colonisation, appears like a sad, dead wasteland.

I’ve long held the impression that life is a fluke, an extreme, long odds, outside chance and that it ought not to have happened at all. It required a very special set of conditions: a place in the solar system goldilocks zone; the right sized planet; the right amount of essential elements, in the right proportions; water, existing in three states; a magnetic field; and probably a whole host of things I haven’t considered. The fact that life has existed here for billions of years, long enough to enable selective evolution to develop complicated lifeforms, and somehow avoiding a natural catastrophic annihilation may be regarded as a miracle. Though I enjoy science fiction, I’ve often found the facts far more impressive.


On science fiction, I’ve had this idea about the perfect afterlife when a soul is free to wander wherever in pleases. Mine would love to fly to other planets just to see how they matched up with those artist’s impressions.

But then the other day I had a crisis of doubt. How do souls, or ghosts, work? Without a body, they have no sensory perceptions and won’t see, hear or feel anything externally. They are all imagination, aren’t they? Oh well, back to the drawing board…


image: imagined, the brief life of a Venera probe on the surface of Venus, a reality Hell (from The Planets, BBC)