Blissful ignorance

I know the expression ‘ignorance is bliss’ usually refers to the happy state of not knowing stuff, and not being aware that you don’t know stuff. But for me, it describes the state of excitement I’m feeling about taking my first few steps out of extreme ignorance, (where you actually think you know a thing or two), into realising that there’s a world, nay, a vast universe, of stuff out there waiting to be discovered.
It’s that feeling where one brave step into the unknown opens up a world of unbelievable possibilities, research, new thoughts and questions. Where things you didn’t realise existed are waiting to be viewed, but now you do because you looked up and started asking a few questions.

For example, a few nights ago I continued my futile and, as yet, thwarted attempt to glimpse what is the current astronomical stir of the month, the Pan-Starrs comet. Binoculars were at the ready (it turns out my father-in-law loved bird-watching and my husband had inherited his pair, Mark Scheffel 10-30 x 50). Now, while I’m absolutely delighted each time I read that someone else has spotted it, and relish the photos with a tinge of awe, I am nevertheless pretty envious and confess to more than a touch of sour grapes of which I am not entirely proud. Our UK skies, recently described by a great friend and experienced astronomer in his blog (10 Minute Astronomy) as ‘freaking amazing’, are nevertheless fraught with problems. Namely, clouds.
But the sense that it’s all still there is delicious. It doesn’t just go away because I can’t see it. It teases, it’s tantalising.
But the other evening the clouds had lifted a little so, dressed for sub-zero temperatures, I attempted to spot the comet (now affectionately re-named the ruddy comet). No sign of it. But I did notice a strange smudge to the left of the moon crescent. No, that can’t be it, I thought. I had read it would be more down and to the left on the night in question. It had no single bright point of light, just a smudge. And the smudge was more horizontal, so not a tail pointing away from the recently set sun.

So what was that then? My iPad app initially suggested NGC520, colliding galaxies about 100 million light-years away, and 100,000 light-years across. Awesome. What could be more spine-chilling? But now I’m not so sure. Maybe it was Andromeda. Isn’t that supposed to be visible to the naked eye?
The seasoned astronomer may now be chuckling to themselves – who  fails to know the difference between Andromeda and colliding galaxies when they see it? Thwarted by my own ignorance? Hardly. I delight in my new-found lack of knowledge. The flood-gates of exploration are now open, my journey of discovery is blissfully under way.
I might even give the ruddy comet another go tonight, the forecast is good. Wish me luck.


My garden shed, at night.


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