ASTRONOMERS AT JERUSALEM
-text Andrei Dorian Gheorghe;
photos Valentin Grigore, Ilan Manulis (Israel), Emmanuel Schwalb (Israel),
Andrei Dorian Gheorghe;
design Florin-Alexandru Stancu-
From time to time I look at a painting
which I bought 13 years ago, in April 2000,
in the old city of Jerusalem.
It was an extraordinary expedition,
in which we were helped by two exemplary Israeli friends,
Emmanuel Schwalb (a physician born in Romania)
and Ilan Manulis (the director of the minor bodies section
of the Israeli Astronomical Association, his name being given to an asteroid
by the International Astronomical Union),
and their families,
who walked us in the Holy Land.
Our expedition was based on an invitation received by
Valentin Grigore (President of SARM)
to participate at a professional super-conference,
Leonid MultiInstrument Aircraft Campaign Workshop,
organized by NASA (in cooperation with SETI Institute,
Tel Aviv University - local organizer - and
other institutions - including the Pentagon.)
How was the presence of two Romanian amateur astronomers
possible at an event created for the most complex ever analysis
of a meteor shower, the Leonids,
made by scientists from North America, Europe, Japan,
former Soviet Union, Israel etc.?
The answer is simple.
In the night of the maximum of Leonid meteor shower 1998
(16/17 November) - the most impressive meteor outburst
in the last 32 years - Valentin Grigore
was the most active individual observer
(cumulating his visual and photographic results)
in the world.
So the chief-scientist of the Leonid project,
a very kind and open man named Peter Jenniskens
(later, in 2012 he became the President of Commission 22,
Meteors and Inter-Planetary Dust, of the International Astronomical Union),
wanted in the workshop a poster with Valentin’s visual and photographic observations,
which we adorned with
artworks by Calin Niculae, Dan Mitrut and Ioana Grigore,
and other Leonid observations by Adrian Bruno Sonka and Valeriu Tudose.
He also wanted to expand the event with an artistic moment,
and here the responsible was me.
That’s why, also from time to time, I open the volume of the conference
to see the Romanian astropoems published in it,
which I used in the astropoetry show I directed in 17 April 2000
during the festive evening of the workshop
at the Maganda Restaurant in Tel Aviv.
Obviously, I performed it together with Valentin Grigore,
stirring the enthusiasm of the conference participants (most of them Americans),
for whom we became “nice guys”…
One of the most precious memories in my life…
But now I prefer to leave the astronomical aspects of that event for other times
and to limit to the excursion of the conference.
Why did a NASA project want a visit
to that spiritual centre of the world,
the old city of Jerusalem,
from where the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam)
started to conquer the earth?
Certainly, it was a cultural challenge.
Maybe an atheist astronomer could say that
the clerics blocked the development of astronomy till the 17th century,
punishing any escape from Claudius Ptolemy’s cosmic system
with skies for seven planets (including the Sun and the Moon)
and the sky of the fixed stars.
On the contrary, maybe a religious astronomer could say that
the clerics protected astronomy till the 17th century
in limits imposed by history.
Anyway, it is hard to say when the independence of astronomy started:
-maybe when Copernicus launched the heliocentric model
-maybe when Galileo watched the sky through a lunette,
and Kepler enounced the laws of planetary motion
-maybe when King Charles II named the first Astronomer Royal
(John Flamsteed in 1675),
after King Louis XIV had accepted the creation
of Paris Observatory (1667-1771);
-or maybe when sky lovers created the first astronomical society
Or never, if we do not forget that:
-Pope Gregory XIII launched the Gregorian Calendar
-Gassendi, Boscovich, Grimaldi, Riccioli and other famous astronomers
were also priests;
-The Papacy established astronomical observatories
in the 18th century;
-the first asteroid was discovered by an astronomer-priest, Giuseppe Pozzi
-the contemporary inventor of a popular telescope, John Dobson,
had been an oriental monk;
-most of the astronomers are believers;
-even the atheist astronomers naturally adopt a comportamental code
specific to the religious community from which they come.
But this is a false problem.
I think it is really important for all the people
(atheists or believers)
to respect each other,
then together to look for the constructive, generous and beautiful things
made by humanity,
and to try to make other ones in the same spirit,
with the superior power of evolution.
So, in the country where:
-the Bible gave many fascinating descriptions and metaphors
of the Cosmos,
variously reflected all over the world in paintings and artworks
made especially in synagogues and churches;
- in antique times there were
an alphabet, a lunar calendar and a zodiac
(signifying, after some researchers, the twelve tribes of Israel);
-King David (who moved the Capital of Israel
to Jerusalem in the 11th century BC)
seemed to intuit gravity,
writing in Psalm 19:1:
“The heavens declare the glory of God
and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.”
(King James version);
the Milky Way was the Fire Stream,
and the constellation Orion was not a brave hunter
(like in antique Greece),
but an angel named Kesil;
-the most mysterious heavenly body in history,
the Star of Kings (or Magi),
appeared to announce the come of the Saviour…
Why did a NASA project want a visit
to the old city of Jerusalem?
Finally, after so many years,
looking again at a photo by Valentin Grigore,
with the Jewish Wailing Wall in the centre,
the Christian zone (including the Holy Sepulchre of Jesus Christ) to the left,
and the Muslim zone (where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heavens
in his Night Journey) to the right,
I still try to find an answer:
In each place of the world
Astronomy is the part of culture that,
Day after day and night after night,
Has to sustain the people through
Knowledge, truth and devotion
To the celestial light.
In memory of
Tatiana Schwalb (1957-2013,
Emmanuel Schwalb's wife, physician, born in Romania),
whose hospitality, benevolence and generosity
represented an unforgettable support
for this original Romanian expedition to a NASA workshop.
© 2013 SARM
(Romanian Society for Meteors and Astronomy)