Post 3 - Astronomy & Ecuador Plans

Hello everyone. This post covers a new hobby of mine (no prizes for guessing what), as well as a lengthy update on Ecuador in the second part. I'd strongly recommend not skipping to the Ecuador part first, although you are ultimately the master of your own destiny...

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Do you remember how it felt when you last started a new hobby?

When you have a lot of free time like I do, it opens up a realm of hobbies and interests to explore. Given I’m blessed with fairly dark skies where I live, I’ve decided to stare up at the heavens – at least until it gives me a bad neck.

A less charitable view is that I’ve turned into one of those socially awkward astronomy nerds. One who spends too much time playing with his telescope when no one is looking. When I say my telescope, I mean my telescope. That’s not a euphemism for something else.

With some encouragement from my brother, I’ve splashed out on a telescope. I’ve never had one before in my life, and I can’t ever remember using one.

Therefore, I had to spend a bit of time on research. I’ve settled on a 130mm diameter telescope, with a 900mm focal length. With the lenses supplied, it means I can go up to x180 magnification. If I invested in another lens, I could go up to x260.

In plain English, this is a half decent telescope for a beginner.

It also came with a solid EQ2 mount. This means it’s as solidly built as a 1930s Ukrainian coal miner, and works by using ascension and declination. If you’ve ever seen the episode of the Simpsons, where Bart is punished by helping out Principle Skinner with astronomy, then these terms may be familiar. For those of you with a fuzzy memory, it’s the one where he discovers a comet that’s on course to destroy the town.

I didn’t know what the hell these terms meant at the time, but apparently they are the co-ordinates in the sky for different celestial objects. Therefore, if you have co-ordinates for a star system or passing comet, you can line up the telescope and find it in no time.

My brother did a great job of setting it up, whilst I did a great job of repeating encouraging slogans, and watching him do it. We pointed it at a house across the valley for some final calibration, and it was good to go.

For where I’m living, the night time viewing conditions are great, especially for an English city. I’m on the far fringe of Bath, which is a picturesque town sized city in the South West of England. On a moonless night, I can make out the arm of the Milky Way soaring above us. It looks closer to being a ghostly whisper, rather than the colourful band depicted in professional photography. Yet it is nonetheless visible, along with literally hundreds of stars.

On a few occasions I’ve observed Saturn and its rings. On the first occasion, its image was still and awe inspiring. I was expecting it to look huge and colourful, as per the photos we see in the National Geographic.

The second time, it was breezy, and the atmosphere was wobbling the image. I imagined it was being wobbled, in the same way that vibrations from a sound system and dancing at an illegal party would.

To find the Polaris (The North Star, follow an imaginary line from the "pan" of "The Big Dipper" i.e. Dubhe and the star below it in Ursa Major. The tail end of the "Little Dipper" will be Polaris. This will be closer to "True North", as the location of Magnetic North varies, and lies somewhere in Northern Canada. 

To find the Polaris (The North Star, follow an imaginary line from the "pan" of "The Big Dipper" i.e. Dubhe and the star below it in Ursa Major. The tail end of the "Little Dipper" will be Polaris. This will be closer to "True North", as the location of Magnetic North varies, and lies somewhere in Northern Canada. 

I haven’t set my telescope up next an illegal squat rave, but perhaps I should. That way, when the party really gets going, I can call the police in a nasal voice, and complain that their partying is wobbling my telescope images to an unacceptable level. That way, I can comfortably sit in the dark, whilst I ruin a party I haven’t been invited to.

The idea brings a small grin to my face. Partly because I’ve been to a few raves during my time. Partly because I never thought I’d be enough of a twat to call the police, and close one down. But I can be a vindictive little bastard when my telescope images are being distorted…

On another night, I managed to track down the Andromeda galaxy. There is also a constellation of the same name, which are adjacent to one another. The key difference is that the constellation’s three brightest stars range from 97 to 350 light years away, whilst the spiral galaxy is approximately 1’500’000 light years away. The light reaching us now was produced before our modern species of humans even existed.

I’ve provided a brief series of images (screenshots from The Night Sky app), that can help you track it down if you’re interested. An excellent star map from National Geographic can be purchased from here.

Once you've found Polaris, look out for the "bent W" on it's side, to the lower left of it. That will be Cassiopeia. If you follow a line from Polaris to the centre of the bent W, it should roughly line up with the Andromeda galaxy. Note that you won't be able to see Andromeda with the naked eye, unless you have a dark sky.

Once you've found Polaris, look out for the "bent W" on it's side, to the lower left of it. That will be Cassiopeia. If you follow a line from Polaris to the centre of the bent W, it should roughly line up with the Andromeda galaxy. Note that you won't be able to see Andromeda with the naked eye, unless you have a dark sky.

The Night Sky app is fantastic if you want to hold your phone up to the sky, and have the stars and constellations joined together. They’ll also help you identify the Pole Star, and other constellations.

These may be useful if you’ve lost your compass in the wild, or perhaps to help find your way into your date’s pants on a romantic night out. Depending on your priorities, both can be regarded as emergencies.  

Best not to suggest a night time walk in an isolated field on your first date though. Unless of course, you want them to think you’re an axe murderer.

I’ve also had some fun watching shooting stars from the Perseid meteor shower. Many were faint, sometimes to the point where I wasn’t sure if I was imagining them or not. However one was a huge orangey white fireball, which burned a bright arc across the sky. I had no idea anything like those could exist. It seemed to belong in Hollywood, as opposed to reality.

Close up of Andromeda and Cassiopeia. If it helps you to remember, the constellation of Andromeda looks like the top half of a person chained to a rock. Andromeda was the princess that was offered up to a sea monster in Ancient Greek Mythology. Cassiopeia was her mother. Andromeda was ultimately saved by Perseus, who cut off the head of Medusa, and showed it to the sea monster, thus turning it into stone. Perseus flew back in the nick of time on his winged horse, Pegasus. Note that all four constellations, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Perseus, and Pegasus are adjacent to one another in the night sky

Close up of Andromeda and Cassiopeia. If it helps you to remember, the constellation of Andromeda looks like the top half of a person chained to a rock. Andromeda was the princess that was offered up to a sea monster in Ancient Greek Mythology. Cassiopeia was her mother. Andromeda was ultimately saved by Perseus, who cut off the head of Medusa, and showed it to the sea monster, thus turning it into stone. Perseus flew back in the nick of time on his winged horse, Pegasus. Note that all four constellations, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Perseus, and Pegasus are adjacent to one another in the night sky

As time has progressed, I’m now able to identify roughly 12 constellations in the Northern night sky, without resorting to a star map. I’m hoping to increase this tally, as the changing of the seasons brings more constellations into play.

One final item to bore you with before I move on. The Kepler telescope is trailing the Earth, and is actively scanning the stars for planets. Although it’s literally on the verge of breaking down, it’s confirmed the presence of over 3000 planets, with thousands more requiring verification before they are confirmed.

I think this is stunning. The telescope only covers 0.25% of the night sky, primarily focusing on the constellations of Cygnus, Lyra and Draco. What’s even more humbling is that we can only see 0.000003% of the Milky Way, our own galaxy. This means we’ve discovered at least 3000 planets by looking at roughy 0.00000075% of our galaxy.

If you want to help to verify the unconfirmed planets, you can volunteer on the Planet Hunter website here, and give it a go from the comfort of your own home.

Whilst the work isn’t paid, glamourous, particularly exciting, nor likely to increase your chances of procreation, you might be lucky enough to help discover of planet of your own. Maybe it could be a version of our own planet, teeming with life of its own...

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Some of you may have guessed that my trip to Ecuador is no longer on the cards. Those of you who guessed that are correct.

When I wrote my work leaving letter in February, I set my intended travel date for late August. I was optimistic about achieving this, but it was always dependant on the improvement of my health.

At the time, my vitality was experiencing a powerful bounce. I became physically stronger, and I’d stopped taking all my painkillers and anti-nausea meds. I optimistically thought to myself “if this is what I’m like now, then imagine what I’ll be like in August”.

I wanted to enjoy the English springtime, which I hadn’t seen since 2013, soak up the summer, and cap it off with a trip to Ecuador. Sounds quite lovely, doesn’t it?

My first blog mentioned I was experiencing some rocky periods. Despite this, I still managed to stay on my feet. Later, I was tossed into another tempest as described in my second blog, yet I still had enough fight in me to ride out the storm.

As the waves began to settle, I became more calculating and grounded about my next move.

The Yachak (indigenous Shaman) who kindly offered to help me, nonetheless gave me an important condition. He said the rainforest plants are powerful, and have the ability to cure me. However, they also very physically demanding on the body, and if I’m in a weakened state, they easily have the power to kill me.

The key was to ensure my system was strong enough to handle these plants, as well as any restrictive diets that are necessary with this work.

To give you a more tangible flavour, a friend of mine recently shared his one of his visits to the Amazon. He told of his experience with a plant called “Yawarpanga”, which means blood leaf. When the veins of this plant are cut and squeezed, they exude a red liquid. The leaves are boiled with water and drunk, with copious amounts of other water and liquids being imbibed throughout the day. It has many medicinal benefits, however the price paid is heavy vomiting and potentially diarrhoea.

I’m not saying that this particular plant would have necessarily been given to me by the Yachak. However, I do want press home the point that the healing work would require me to battle harder than I am doing now, and would by no means be a walk in the park. A battle which I’m not convinced I could win.   

I’ve had to significantly increase my uptake of painkillers, including opioids, to the point where I’d struggle to function without them. It would be dangerous to take them simultaneously with the forest medicines, given that the biochemical interactions are largely unknown.

I’m also being patched up by my healing team with acupuncture, osteopath and reflexology sessions each week. I’m finding these sessions vital to keep me steady. I’m also almost 60lbs (28kg) lighter than when I was at the peak of my fitness (doing circus aerial & gymnastics), so I don’t have a big safety buffer to shield me.

I could be in a state where I’m just about fit enough to travel, and then not be authorised to fly back home, due to the actions of the medicines, or any tropical diseases. I could potentially spend my last days, weeks, or months away from family and friends in a foreign land, and away from additional comforts that would ease any suffering.

It would be like setting out on a journey to a desert oasis with my last drops of water. However, instead of finding a shaded, lush paradise, I would be confronted with dust and parched scrub.

Am I upset? Not really. Am I disappointed? To begin with, yes. However, I’ve made my peace.

Am I giving up? No way. Despite all of this, I feel very optimistic and content. My rational mind can’t make much sense of this, and there’s a palpable chance I could be proved wrong. My conventional medical options are exhausted, and I’ve had to leave the casino before my big roll of the dice.

Yet I still feel calm, and have a subdued sense of excitement. Perhaps it’s towards the possibility of a healthy future delivered by a miracle. Perhaps it’s because I derive happiness from each day, and can always find something to look forward to. Even if it’s just the meals I eat, getting a health treatment, or connecting with loved ones. Or perhaps it’s due to the various projects I have going, which give me a strong sense of purpose, and an avenue to channel my energy.

I dare not question it too much though – if I’ve been gifted with happiness, I probably shouldn’t try to look a gift horse in the mouth.

There is also still plenty on my plate to do. Instead of shooting my last arrows into the bush, I still have the opportunity to put them to good use.

I recently had my friend Jeremy over, who works for Yoga Journal. He interviewed me for an article, which we’re hoping to get published.

The film crew have been back to do another round of filming, and we’re getting some excellent footage in. I’ve managed to organise all the interviews for my San Francisco friends, co-workers, healers, and teachers. I have time to aid further to the process, behind the scenes. LA Metro have agreed to allow filming in the Crenshaw Line for my documentary, and my former boss will be giving it a good go on camera.

I’m continuing my blogging (I’m aiming to write more frequently), my video diaries, and want to get started on a book.

I look forward to having friends and family over, which never fails to bring a smile to my face. I don’t have the physical strength and mobility I had before. Yet life is good, and I’m really enjoying it.

I’ve had more time to read than I ever did, as well as picking up new skills and hobbies. We can never fully experience all the wonders the world has to offer, but I’ve been gifted with time. Why not explore some of the things I never thought I ever had the time to do?

I also have an exciting new project, which I intend to be write about in my next post.

Sorry if you’ve found this change of direction upsetting, but that’s just how it is. I’m sure many of you will have your own opinions on what you would or wouldn’t do in my situation, but I’m glad you’re not in the position to put theory into practice.

However, I feel comfortable with my decision, regardless of what might be in store for me around the corner.

Thanks for reading

Harnaik

P.S. If you'd like to be added to my mailing list, please give me a quick shout on harnaik.mann@hotmail.com. Thanks