Friday, May 23, 2008

Looking up

click photo to enlarge
Mankind's impact on the earth is much discussed these days, particularly with regard to global warming, diminishing resources, the extinction of life forms, and the despoiling of land and the sea. Such are the demands that we make of our finite planet, it is increasingly hard to find a place where the mark of man is not visible. The uninhabited desert is frequently littered with the debris of wars. Mount Everest is marked by the dumps of successive generations of climbers. The jungles of the tropics are scarred by new roads and burnt clearings. And now we read that the seas are becoming a soup of decaying plastic as well as a dump for sewage and other noxious materials.

So, where can we look to see a sight unchanged from that seen by our ancestors? Well there clearly are still some locations on land and sea but they usually have to be sought out. The most convenient place is actually above our heads! Especially at night. The stars have held a fascination for mankind ever since he first glanced skywards. They offer a unique sight that is available to all without the inconvenience of travel. Or they should. The problem is that light pollution from cities hides all but the brightest stars, the moon and planets, and today it's only in the countryside away from street lighting that we can see the heavens in all their beauty - the odd satellite or aircraft permitting! The International Dark-Sky Association and its affiliated organisations work to return our birthright to us. Interestingly the shape of the constellations has changed slightly since Stone Age man gazed upwards, but essentially, what he saw, we see.

When the builders of our medieval cathedrals came to decide how to finish their ceilings they often painted golden stars on a blue background to represent the night sky or heaven, the destination of believers. As vaulting became more intricate and the short decorative ribs called liernes were introduced, it seemed obvious to make it into a star pattern (called a stellar vault), and symbolise heaven with one beautiful, radiant star. That is what happened to the underside of the crossing tower of Peterborough Cathedral shown in the photograph above.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/30
ISO: 800
Exposure Compensation: -1.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On