Have you ever met someone who looks up at the sky without a hint of awe in their eyes? If the answer is yes, then you have definitely met more people than me. Of course, for most people, this awe is momentary, a passing fancy, after which they resume their routine. However, for a rare few this fancy turns into something much greater, a passion that consumes them, becoming a cornerstone of their lives. It goes without saying that I am one of those people, someone who still looks up at the same sky every day with the same wonder as I did many years ago.
I can’t say how long I have been interested in astronomy, it’s been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. Yet there is a moment that I recall that was somewhat a defining point in my life, that not only made me want to study the cosmos but also changed the way I looked at the world. Summer of 2012, seems like a lifetime ago, I and my family were on a trip to a resort island. Living in the Maldives, you would think I would be accustomed to clear skies and dark nights, but in reality, I’ve lived most of my life in the capital city Male’, which to put simply had less than ideal stargazing conditions. However, unlike the capital, the smaller islands of Maldives and the commercial resorts thankfully remain untouched by the menace of urbanization, which basically means superbly unpolluted night skies.
On this particular trip, we were visiting a nearby resort for a much-needed getaway from hustle and bustle of the city. I still remember that my dad had to force me to take a walk on the beach that night, because I at the height of my laziness, needed an extremely important reason to get off the couch. Not to mention the chance of possible encounters with crabs on the pitch-black sand was a possibility that I would do anything to avoid. Fortunately, my dad, through various forms of emotional blackmail, managed to persuade me and to my surprise, the beach was almost completely crab-free. I marvelled at how peaceful the beach itself was, with the mighty tides crashing into oblivion on the shore and a pleasant sea breeze that rustled the palms, but the real magic began when I turned my head skyward.
There are seldom moments in your life when you bear witness to something so breath-taking and boundless that everything you have ever known seems minuscule in comparison. I looked up to find the sky sprinkled with white, so many heavenly bodies that I could barely make out the black between them. The Milky Way was a bright silver stroke in the sky. The heavens were so vast and full of vigour that for the first time I looked at it and felt small as if the stars weighed heavy on my shoulders. To someone who is used to seeing a night sky with stars that you could count on your fingers, this was beyond overwhelming. Even the unpolluted black of the darkness felt strangely pleasing, being so used to the orange tint of the city. Watching a scene that was indiscernible from fiction was a feeling that had me standing teary-eyed on the edge of that beach, and it still echoes within me today.
It would be an understatement to say that it was difficult for me to find anything remotely as spectacular as what I had seen that night. Soon after I joined the school astronomy club, finding that there were many more like me than I had accounted (their reasons incredibly different from mine, however). I learned that there was much more to space than just what we could see, most of it so unbelievable that it wouldn’t be far-fetched to call it magic. Yet my prime interest always stayed in observational astronomy, and my objective remains to keep learning more and more about it.
Whenever I recall this story, I still find myself humouring at how ironic it is. After all, I had been on many such trips before, seen the sky with as many stars as well, and yet never before felt the same way as I had that night. Life certainly has a way of surprising us even with the things we do all the time. So, look up at the sky, who knows maybe it will change your life forever.