Unlike most observatories, Black Rock Observatory has no fixed location. It’s not permanently fixed on top of a hill or on an island. Instead, it is about to make its way from Los Angeles to the Nevada desert, where it will be installed for the Burning Man festival that starts at the end of this month. In September, it will all be packed up again and removed.
Black Rock City, the location of Burning Man, is a place that only exists for one week every year. It runs entirely on a sharing economy, and it’s out of range of mobile phone providers and internet. For the entire week, the participants of Burning Man are part of a community with no ties to the outside world.
It’s the perfect place to look up at the stars together, so last year a group of scientists, artists and engineers created the first Black Rock Observatory. The domes, designed by Gregg Fleishman, are relatively easy to transport and the creators have since visited several other events with the mobile observatory, bringing astronomy to an even wider audience. Besides looking through the telescopes, visitors can hold a meteor, and learn more about space.
This year Black Rock Observatory will be back at Burning Man with a second telescope, to give even more people a chance to visit the impromptu observatory.
The theme of Burning Man this year is “Carnival of Mirrors”, which is a very fitting theme! As the creators, the “Desert Wizards of Mars”, said on their (successfully funded) Kickstarter page: “There will be a lot of mirrors at Burning Man this year, but our very special mirror will show you wonders that are light years away in perfect focus from the comfort of our Macro Dome. (…) Our telescope’s precision, hand-crafted, parabolic mirror cradles light to allow you to see through space and time. It has a silicon dioxide coating and will transmit millions of travel-wary photons into your pupils every minute.”
As you know*, we like to mix our science and our poetry. Mike has generously loaned this Philistine the reins to the Sunday Science Poem franchise, which I promptly moved to Tuesday; but I had to move it to Tuesday because I don’t want you to miss out.
Astronomy has played a role in human culture for thousands of years and appears in literature from every era. We can see not only the influence of the heavens on our writings, but also the influence of language itself on our conception of astronomy. Heralding the dawn of the International Year of Light in 2015, join us now to explore how light from the stars has been important to humans for millennia. We will begin with Gilgamesh and Homer, and continue through Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, and into contemporary music and literature. Along the way, we will also examine how the structure of language has influenced the perception of astronomical phenomena. – CosmoQuest Academy
***I imagine all those exchanges are constantly derailed by people writing, “I think this one really works” in a proposed font, and then wondering, “Do they really like it or are they being sarcastic****?”
****…which may actually be a sign that it is working.