My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all. ~ Stephen Hawking
For as long as humankind has been on this earth we have looked up at the heavens and marveled and wondered what is really out there, and where, exactly, do we fit in? Far from just asking questions though, we actively go in search of answers to these questions even while being, for the most part, grounded on earth. The quest for truth and understanding has led us to create instruments that allow us to see far beyond what is normally visible to the human eye, without necessarily having to board the nearest spacecraft.
This planet that we call home is just one of eight (it used to be nine before Pluto got booted from the official list for being too small) planets that make up the solar system. However, our solar system is only part, and a very small part, of a vast, interconnected system of stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae, comets and a host of other heavenly bodies and elements, some known, many still unknown or barely known, collectively called the universe or the cosmos. It is truly an awe-inspiring universe that we live in and one which the majority of Guyanese will never get to experience beyond that which can be seen with the naked eye.
Building a national observatory in Guyana could change all that by, literally, bringing the wonders of the universe home to us, making it possible for us here to see in real-time what we have only seen in photos and videos, or through the lens of small telescopes. An observatory where teachers, students and other people with an interest in space could go to see and learn for themselves would open our eyes to the universe on a much grander scale. Who has not, on a dark, star-filled night, looked up at the Milky Way stretching like an enigmatic, dusty, glowing highway across the dome of the heavens and longed to see it up close?
Guyana should have a national observatory because it would be a wonderful addition to our nation’s education and development. Schools and clubs could organize tours and field trips to such an observatory, enabling students and people, young and old, to view and learn about the universe, thereby giving them an opportunity to develop an interest in a branch of science that is virtually unknown in Guyana, cosmology. As it is right now in Guyana our general education on the universe is rudimentary, often reduced to little more than the planets within our own solar system and usually limited to knowing little more than their names and placement around the sun.
Astronomy is a remote subject for most Guyanese people and young Guyanese who aspire to astronomy as a career must consider relocating to other, more developed countries as Guyana has very little to offer in terms of facilities or training to study that particular branch of science. There may be young people in Guyana who have the potential to become great astronomers and cosmologists, there may be future Carl Sagans and Stephen Hawking among our children, for whom just one look at some distant glowing nebula in the far reaches of space is all it takes to ignite that spark and fan to life a lifelong fire for discovering and understanding the mysteries of the universe.
A national observatory in Guyana could afford us that opportunity.
Guyana is a country blessed with clear skies, unpolluted air, and broad excellent vistas. This makes it ideal for building a space observatory. The establishment of such a facility would ensure that the country will become a destination for international astronomers. It would give local amateur astronomers the opportunity to broaden their interests and knowledge through meeting and interacting with international colleagues, without having to consider leaving the country to do so.
I believe that a national observatory, built and maintained by the government of Guyana, would make it more easily accessible to the public as opposed to a privately owned facility. We need something that people can visit and learn from. A facility that contains state of the art telescopes and equipment, one that is staffed with competent and knowledgeable professionals and volunteers and is connected to other such facilities worldwide so that the sharing of information is constant and updated. It will demonstrate that Guyana is serious about becoming a viable player in space exploration and modern technology.
Many countries around the world have great observatories, some more than once, with powerful telescopes and instruments that are peering and reaching farther into the void of space than ever before, gaining new insights and providing fresh answers to astronomical mysteries that have fascinated and perplexed humanity for millennia. Guyana should not be left behind. Every year groundbreaking information and more stunning images are added to the ever-increasing store already in existence. Guyana, through the establishment of a national space observatory, could become a significant contributor on the international stage and help raise the country’s status to a higher level. We might not all be able to “Go where no man has gone before” but we will certainly get the opportunity to see what we have not been able to see before.
Cosmata was AAAG’s winner of 2019 Christmas Essay Competition. The grand prize won was one 70mm refractor telescope and a book on observing the night sky.