7 12 2008


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14 06 2014

23 new









Apart from insomniacs and vampires, only a few ever see them.
Most glimpse them accidentally, with no idea what they are:
Deafened, dehydrated clubbers, weaving their way home through litter-strewn streets
See them shining through gaps in the trees;
Sleep-deprived shift-workers, their body clocks broken beyond repair,
Catch sight of them out the corners of their tired eyes;
Farmers, hauling open screeching barn doors, pause a moment
To look at them glowing in the east,
Dragging tendrils of silver over the still-sleeping hills
Before heading back to their sheep…

But some deliberately hunt them down.
Coffee-drenched, they dare to dream of
A northern sky sprayed a dozen shades of strange;
Fight to stay awake at the end of a tiring day, hungry to see
The fabled “mysterious NLC” shining above their streets,
Their hills, their town again:
As midnight approaches, Special Forces sky-watchers
Armed with cost-a-month’s-salary cameras,
Pockets stuffed full of ammunition – spare memory cards and batteries –
Creep out of their homes, leaving loved ones alone, to chase their prey.
Eager eyes scanning the dusk they rush to their favourite places,
Faces bathed in pale starlight as what passes for “night” in these summer months
Falls, a few distant suns flickering above as they plant
Their tripod standards on the ground -

And wait…

Most nights the sky around Capella remains beautifully blank,
And they wander home thanking the Universe for nothing,
Cursing it for teasing them, tempting them,
Making fools of them. Again.
But other nights….
At first they see mere whispers of light,
Pale blue-white lines scratched on the purple twilight by invisible cats claws;
Graffiti scrawled on the northern sky by some unseen hand
As the land below, aglow with a million streetlights, sleeps.
But then they grow, a soft slow-motion explosion pushing outwards
At the sides, expanding, blossoming, climbing higher,
All the time brightening, brightening,
Until eventually the sky from west to east appears ablaze
With a forest fire of cold blue flame;
Then, if the universe is kind, the NLC truly come alive,
And those watching in the small hours see a tapestry of curls, whirls and swirls
Stitched from the finest silver thread draped above the distant hills and trees -
Hard not to feel a sense of dread staring at that shining cobweb,
Imagining a throbbing, celestial Shelob squatting inside…
Now the work begins. Shutters click, again and again,
Frame after frame exposed as the NLCs’ glow casts pale shadows
Behind the few who braved the damp and dew
To pursue the elusive clouds.
Time slipping through their cold fingers like sand,
Their cold hands deftly swap lenses in the dark:
They know their favourite 18 mill will show the whole display
In all its glory, looking like a stargate opening above the Earth;
Their trusted 200 mill will pick out individual waves in the sapphire surf,
Rolling, roiling star-smoke blown by winds on the very edge of space.
…and then the inevitable Fade.
Yawning, the watchers can only stand and stare
As dawn’s golden fingers enviously tear their beloved clouds apart
Until nothing remains, and it’s time to head back home –
Not to sleep, as they know they should, but to load their photos onto laptops
And make them come to life, teasing out each subtle smoky line
Until RAW images and memories match.
Then their work will be done, another hunt will be complete,
And they will rest.

…until the Sun goes down, and the hunt begins again…


© Stuart Atkinson June 2014


Pillinger Point

25 05 2014





One day martian children will play here.
Long limbed like storks; pale-skinned Sun-starved albinos
Skipping from stone to stone,
Hop-scotching along Murray Ridge, laughing and screeching,
Kicking up clouds of carrot-hued dust with their scuffed boots
As po-faced Terran pilgrims, following the Opportunity Trail,
Look on, ticking off “Visited on Sol” rocks one by one
As they slog up Solander,
Checking the maps on their HUD Apps
Without really seeing a thing…

…While over there, perched on Pillinger Point like a pair
Of white doves, young lovers will sit in silence,
Drinking in the view through weary but wide-eyes;
New arrivals besotted with Barsoom since birth,
Their umbilical cords to Earth sliced cleanly through
The moment their feet hit the ground.
Ares is their new – and only – home now,
And laughing in disbelief at the burnished bronze beauty
Burning all around them they’ll sit, hand in hand,
On the glittering cinnamon sand, watching their shadows
Stretch across the landscape as the shrunken Sun falls
Behind the faraway hills, ignoring the sparkling sapphire
Evening Star to thrill instead at the sight
Of Phobos climbing silently up out of the Turner twilight…

© Stuart Atkinson 2014


2 02 2014

For almost half a century, every time
I read the word “Supernova” I imagined
Standing outside, on a cold, clear night,
Seeing a hole punched in the sky;
The hide of heaven punctured, allowing the light
Of a more brilliant, more beautiful universe to come surging through,
A Niagara Falls of photons
Brighter than any Full Moon.

After all, those woodcuts, engravings and paintings on cave walls
All showed a spectacular sight:
Something beyond bright, a cosmic Maglite shining
Right in Earth’s eye,
And as the years passed I grew impatient to see
Something like that above me,
A freshly-lit cosmic beacon burning above my town,
Above my hills and trees…

In my mind’s eye I always saw my
First supernova shining amongst the stars of winter.
High, somewhere above Orion,
Its icy rays slicing through the Pleiades, putting nearby
Rigel and Sirius to shame; I pictured
A celestial welding flame so insanely bright
It would cast swaying shadows behind me as I stood there
Staring, staring…

…but instead what I saw was a barely there
Pinprick peeking through a puff of smoke,
A mere silvery mote – even when magnified a dozen times –
Off to one side in a telescope’s eyepiece on a night
Of scudding clouds and mist-dimmed stars,
As I stood in the mud, in a car park.

Tempting… so, so human… to groan “Oh, is that it?”
But grossly unfair.  Remember, I scolded myself, there, so hard to see
Through the fur on the Great Bear’s shoulder,
A star has blown itself apart..!
Not today, but, as the poster says,
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
So far away the light entering our eyes tonight
Set off when Mankind still swung from trees
And the delight of walking upright was just a dream,
Ten million years from waking…

So don’t dismiss that distant fleck of light too soon.
That’s the Universe bursting a balloon
Behind our backs, laughing as we run, stumbling
To our telescopes, desperate to know more,
Desperate to drink in its beauty while trying hard
Not to think of the fate of its family of worlds,
Or wonder if that star had been a civilisation’s Sun
Before it turned itself inside out,
Its neutrino-drenched death met with the terrified shouts
And screams of billions of beings as the ground
Beneath their feet blistered then shattered,
Their planets’ dusty remains scattered like crushed dry leaves…

© Stuart Atkinson 2014

Below: a photo of the supernova taken by myself at the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre at Ennerdale on Jan 31st 2014

SN arrow




24 01 2014

…and then, suddenly,
A candle flame of consciousness
Quivers in the darkness
And Rosetta is awake.

At the start, the pulse of her electronic heart
Barely a flutter, but enough
To rouse her from her drowsy sleep
And pull her out of her dreams.

Slowly, slowly, memories return…
The rust-encrusted globe of Mars burning
Up ahead, Barsoom looming
Like a bloated red giant star before she swooped
Over its pole, Osiris’ single eye briefly catching sight
Of timeless clouds and craters
Through gaps in the great solar arrays
Before Ares fell behind, never to be seen again…

Lutetia – old, cold and grey,
Swimming up out from the depths of space
Like a lone, stone shark before sinking back into the Dark…
Earth gleaming a million different hues
Of emerald green and sapphire blue,
Its disc shrinking to a fingernail-clipping thin
Crescent so beautiful it would have reduced
Any window-crowding crew to tears…

All that is behind her now.
Darkness crowds in on all sides
As she rubs the sleep from her eyes,
Feeling the solar wind whispering o’er her wings,
Stretching and yawning,
Hearing her comet, and destiny, calling…

© Stuart Atkinson 2014


19 01 2014

Where did you come from, little one?
That plate of rock was bare, I swear,
Then suddenly you were there,
Basking in the sunlight, right where
We would see you. Just sitting there,
Looking up at us,
Like Dug in “Up”,
Grinning, tail wagging and sweeping
The dust away as we gazed down at you
Wondering  “What the..???”

So many theories whizzing around the Web
About your origin there’s almost no room left
For gifs of sleeping kittens’ twitching ears
Or Kim Kardashian’s rear.
Did you really fall from the sky?
A meteorite?  Hmmm. Seems unlikely that
With all of Barsoom to choose from
You’d land barely a hand’s width away
From the most curious robot
On the planet, but who knows?

Others cry “Ejecta!”
Could they be right? Did you really fly
Here after being blasted from the ground
By some rock falling at the speed of sound
Out of the sky?
If so, a brand new crater lies nearby,
Surrounded by others just like you –
A second Christmas for geologists
Who would give anything to have the rover roll
Up to its jagged rim to see what hides within…

Perhaps you were simply tiddly-wink flicked here,
Kicked up by the rover itself
To fall a short distance away?
It’s possible. After all, unlike her brash big
Sister’s wounded wheels, increasingly ripped and torn
By a Banth’s raking claws,
MERB’s are still whole
And easily strong enough to scuff
A rogue rock up off the ground,
To be found nearby next Sol…

But I wonder… Had Opportunity  looked up quickly
Would she have seen mischevious martian kids
Standing nearby, caught red (or green?) handed,
Frozen to the spot, ready to throw the stone?
Are they still there, hiding behind her,
Biding their time, daring each other  to try again?

© Stuart Atkinson 2014



Losing Lovejoy

14 01 2014


…and there you are again, still shining
Stubbornly above the trees,
An on-the-very-edge-of-sight star
Far to icy Vega’s lower right,
Bathed in lonely Rasalhague’s glow.
Nowhere near as easy to see as you were
On Christmas Eve; your head no longer
That bright, Kryptonite green
It was while our longing eyes
Were fixed on lying ISON.

There you are again, old friend,
A sky wraith, fading away,
Still shining softly as darkness greys
And birds wake to greet the approaching dawn with song.
I’ve followed you for many Moons now,
Watched you grow from a lowly smear
In an eyepiece on a star-spattered Kielder night
To an emerald green, lace-tailed light
Above frost-whitened fells
Playing hide and seek through scudding clouds,
Your tail, clipped from a vapour trail,
Drawn in pastel shades of lavender and blue
As you fell silently through the sky,
Gliding past Procyon before flying fearlessly
Beneath the Beehive and slipping through
The gap between Cancer’s nipping claws,
Brightening, tail growing,
Shamefully ignored as ISON fever gripped the world,
People everywhere unaware Another was there
For them to see…

Almost gone now, almost gone.
It won’t be long before you’re lost to me.
But ‘til then every chance I have to see
You fading into the night
With these sleep-deprived eyes  I’ll take,
And treasure.

© Stuart Atkinson 2014

Farewell ISON

24 12 2013

On a dozen frosty dawns I watched for you;

Hauled telescopes and cameras up that icy, muddy track,

A map- and binoculars-stuffed rucksack on my back,

All to get just one more glimpse of you glowing feebly above the trees,

A barely-there faraway flare of green

Far fainter than you should have been…

Others gave up on you, packed their gear away to await the day

Of your solar roller-coaster ride, but I

Kept my faith in you, and every fleeting chance I had to catch

A glimpse of you I grabbed with both cold-numbed hands,

Standing in the castle’s jagged shadows, hunting for your so weak glow

Through gaps in the low scudding clouds…

A week before Perihelion I saw you for the last time –

A hint of lime between twin lines of churning black;

A tiny emerald eye peeping out from the folds

Of the clouds’ dark cloak just long enough for one last photo

To be stolen before fading away –


My loyalty was misplaced, my optimism wasted.

I never saw you again.

Instead of screeching around the Sun and leaping

Triumphantly up into my evening sky you died,

Ripped apart by the corona’s clutching claws,

Leaving only a smear of dust behind,

So thinly-spread and faint now I hear not even Hubble’s

Staring Cyclops eye can find what’s left of you…

The scientists shrugged off your demise;

Already delighted with their shiny data

They still rated you a great comet, happy to pour

Over their charts and graphs like warlocks learning spells,

Their spider scrawl Afrho equations  incantations

To solve the Oort’s beyond-ancient mysteries…

But those of us who had dreamed of seeing you

Painted on the sky, who dared imagine a gossamer-trailing firefly

Shining through the golden pre-dawn light

Despaired at the unfairness of it all.

Staring forlornly at SDO’s empty field of view that day

We knew there would be no treasured photographs of you

Cutting the sky in two;  no breathless “Look at that..!” sighs

At the sight of your torch-beam tail rising behind the hills;

No stories told in future years of hearing children laughing

With delight as they stared at you That Night

Through a telescope, seeing the ghostly streamers trailing away

From you like ribbons blowing in the wind…

None of those things were ever meant to be.

“ISON” was never destined to be written on that Facebook-debated list

Of Great Comets next to “Lovejoy”, “Halley” and “Hale-Bopp”;

You’re just another “One That Got away”.

No doubt next time a fainter-than-faint smudge is spotted

Moving through the stars we’ll remember what we learned

From you, and thank you.

But today, looking sadly at an empty sunset,

Staring bitterly at the sky where you should have been,

That day seems a long, long way away…

© Stuart Atkinson 2013


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