11/10/09

My Travel Book - The Nice and Calern Observatories - A Few Thoughts About Astrophysics






When we are at Les Tertres, our home in Brittany, and night falls and it’s not raining or should I say «cloudy», we are blessed with a very beautiful view of the Milky Way since there is almost no light pollution.

The very dim and solar-powered «landing spots for friendly aliens» someone insisted upon scattering in the garden don’t count. They really don’t... poor aliens!.

So we have this wonderful sky and a XIXth century telescope which kind of probably helps us to see the planets and the stars the way they were 100 years ago or so if it works backwards which I doubt but you never know.

Anyway, we have this completely romantic and poetic view of limitless skies, sea and wilderness...

Swee'Pea never asked about a brand new telescope. So we were at a complete loss when he started talking about studying Astrophysics which being JC, he embarked upon as soon as he got his mind set.

He went to graduate school at the Paris Observatory, one of the oldest in France, built at the beginning of the XVIIth century, if I remember right,  at a time when it was still quite far away from the city of Paris and when electricity hadn’t been invented yet!  The astronomers did have a lot of fun there, I imagine! Well, they loved what they were doing so they had to have a lot of fun.

By the way, never even think one second that Astrophysics is this hard and painful to study and that it makes you completely different human beings. Astronomers and astrophysicists can be very friendly people, a little bit on the weird side tho but not always!

Back to the Paris Observatory, it’s still kind of used nowadays. Lately it was given a nice touch of paint with alien cabalistic signs only understood by physicists bright minds and hopefully by aliens too.


When I look at it, I hear the music from Spielberg's Close Encounter of the Third Kind and I hope that our little green men will be as nice as his.

Once he got his PhD, Swee'Pea moved to Nice to another Observatory. I have to admit that it’s a very incredible place! You see it as soon as you get to Nice, on top of «the mountain».



Once you’ve mastered the many sharp twists of the «road» that climbs up to the Observatory, well, I don’t know what it’s like up in the sky at night from there but what you see from up there down in the valley below, wow!




 


 

I spent at least half an hour watching the Corsican Ferry maneuver to get into the very small Nice harbor without sinking any of the cruising yachts there. Wow again.

It’s nice being an astronomer in Nice because you can watch so many boats and ferries during the day... and still go back to your stars and galaxies at night.

(We were lucky to stay in Nice the very week-end the Calern observatory site is open to the public. Swee'Pea was scheduled to give a lecture there.)

So there we are in Nice. The weather is beautiful. Hundreds of people frolic around in a very warm sea.

But we climb aboard our son’s very old Land-Rover and up we go. It’s getting colder and colder. It starts raining. It’s not a road anymore but a track full of potholes due to snow that starts falling early september until Easter!

And we get to Calern... Once again, we are not this much into astrophysics so we don’t grasp the magnitude of the studies done there...



Despite the rain and cold, we are really filled with wonder by the scenery, which may not be this satisfying for Swee'Pea after all. But he’s a forgiving son! Besides we love his lecture, as usual! He makes it very easy to travel through time and dimension.

The rain stops when his lecture is over and so we take a walk through the facilities.



By then the fog is coming up but it gives such a mystery to the whole place even tho hundreds of people are swarming around, some with huge telecospes at the rear of their truck... It’s stargazing night, you guys! This place is open to whoever wants to learn a little bit more about our universe. Once a year!






So we move from building to building, listening to very friendly lecturers about this and that... Swee'Pea seems to know an awful lot of people there! And he looks certainly much happier than if we had insisted upon spending the day at the beach!






And then I come face to face with the most amazing structure I’ve ever seen. It is supposed to be the perfect standard home for the moon! How poetic can astrophysicians be! Antoine de Saint-Exupery himself could have drawn it for the Petit Prince.



I’d spend my whole life on the moon in such a funny house...

Well maybe not.

After going inside and looking outside, no way... Just imagine a lunar scenery from those portholes? All your life?

I’m very sorry, Swee'Pea but I don’t think I’m quite ready to leave my beloved Brittany yet and go spend the rest of my life on some distant star and certainly not on the moon!

Please, let’s go back home. Let’s goooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!








A few links:
http://www.observatorium.fr/visites.php
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CERGA
http://www.obspm.fr/presentation.en.shtml
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nice_Observatory






*Good night, and Good Luck*

2 comments:

Myrna said...

Loved this post! And I want to go to that observatory in Nice! And to see the Northern Lights from France, over a beautiful sea instead of from the frozen North of Canada. That would be so cool! I recently read a book about eclipse chasers--really interesting! What else did this remind me of---oh yes, the Bollywood movie Koi Mil Gaya, which I loved.

Francois said...

All characters are fictional right ? ;-)
Because if being an astronomer involved getting all around the world in gorgeous place, I want to sign ! :p