Jodrell Bank

23 04 2012


Suddenly it all came back to me:

How standing in its shadow for the first time,

All those years before, had been frightening.

I remembered looking up at it, stunned,

Shielding my eyes from the Sun

With a shaking hand and thinking

“You’re kidding me…”

It looked like a fairground ride,

Ripped by giants’ hands from the sands

Of Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach and

Dropped onto the leafy Cheshire countryside,

Prudishly stripped of all its garish lights

Before being allowed to scan the sky –


“Does it shoot death rays, dad?”

I heard a passing kid ask,

Yanking me back to Today and I thought

To myself ‘Yeah, it should’.

For silhouetted against the angry grey sky,

Slashes and splashes of bright blue shining through

Gaps in its framework of bone grey

Metal beams and girders, it was a 70s James

Bond villain’s dream weapon,

Something designed to fire beams of energy,

Not cock an ear to the universe in

Search of meagre amounts of it.


Then it started to move.


With icy, end of April winds whistling through

Its skeletal scaffolding, the great machine began to turn.

Slowly at first; then faster, greased wheels clunking,

Clanking like a WW1 tank coming to life,

It began a slow motion sweep, hunting for its prey:

Faint beep-beeps whispering through the Great Out There…


All around me children were standing in silence,

Squeezing their parents’ hands,

Seeing – what? I wondered. The wondrous celebration

Of technology and metalwork I saw, or something else?

Something that was about to come to life?

One of those robots in disguise?

Oh yes; the Lovell would make a great Transformer.

Can’t you just imagine it suddenly heaving itself up

Out of the ground with a deafening growl of gears,

The dish revealed, at last, to be just the fearful head

Of a much larger, monstrous machine!

And with an avalanche of dirt and soil

Falling from its long-hidden limbs,

Hauling itself up to its full height before striding

Across the field, that dish would pan to and fro,

Scanning the people screaming below,

Idly noting their slowed-down-pulsar pulses

Before crushing them into a pulp –


But there’s no need for such a fantasy,

Not when the truth is beyond strange.

Standing in the Lovell’s long shadow you know,

You feel it, in here, that every tone it hears,

Every chirp and cheep collected from the starry deep

Reveals the true beauty of the universe

Hiding behind our cerulean sky:

Choirs of singularities singing at the funerals of stars;

The bawling of newborn-suns, so far

Away their infancy ended a billion years ago;

The whale-song of whirling galaxies,

Doppler-shifted dirges, mournful and deep.

 © Stuart Atkinson 2012

Illustrated version here: click to enlarge…





20 04 2012



The image, taken by our faithful solar sentinel, SDO,

Made even the most ignorant-about-the-universe gasp:

A great ragged arch of fire leaping off the surface of the Sun;

A jagged splash of cherry-red rising from

Sol’s perfectly curved limb. Outrageously violent,

Supremely savage, sensuously silent.


Staring at it on my screen, my mind reeling

From the brutal beauty of the blast,

I couldn’t help but wonder if Science had got it wrong.

Surely that couldn’t be natural; surely

That eruption was more than just the result

Of a perfect storm of magnetism and currents?

No… come on…  please

There had to be more to it than that.


I wouldn’t be at all amazed if, one far-future day,

Astronomers falling through the Sun in some

Fantastic, force-field shielded ship

Discover our star had been impregnated by

A wandering alien queen, back at the solar system’s

Dusty dawn; back when our infant Sun was just warm

Enough to provide the perfect nest for its crystal-shelled eggs,

Which, once laid, stayed clustered around its core for four

Billion years, undetected, unseen just the occasional beam

Of neutrinos betraying their radiation-soaked dreams…


And now… each petal pink prominence a contraction;

Each coronal mass ejection a solar chest-burster,

Setting the Sun shaking and shuddering, convulsing like John Hurt

On the Nostromo’s kitchen table; screaming

As ripples of ruby red spread across its face

Before its plasma blood gushes out into the black,

The newborn soaring free, invisible against

The rippling orange waves, witnessed by millions an AU away…


Ridiculous, I know… But looking closely

At this SDO movie I’m sure I can see

Something silhouetted against the flames,

Streaking away –

Ahhhhhhh… And remember how we all assumed

Comet Lovejoy had survived its Christmas kamikaze dive

Through the corona when we saw

That strange twizzly thing corkscrewing away from the Sun?


Just saying…


© Stuart Atkinson 2012

(Illustrated version below, click to enlarge)


10 04 2012


For weeks I watched them drift towards each other,

Approaching shyly, slyly; two would-be lovers

From a Jane Austen dance, casting furtive glances

Across the ballroom of the golden twilight,

Eyes for no-one else as nightfall drew near.

Venus – lovely and lantern-bright, out-shining

Every other dancer on the floor; Jupiter – fainter

By far but still beaming with a noble light,

Stalking his pretty planetary prey…

The first time I saw them they were still

A third-of-the-sky apart,

But each blazing Turner sunset brought them closer yet,

Each day’s end a little better-placed to gaze

Upon each other’s radiant face,

And a million Earthbound eyes looked on, amazed

To see two such fine celestial jewels

Coming together in the sky.

Some sought out a sheltered, grassy place

Of peace and dark to watch the twin sparks’

Close approach in groups; others stood alone

In overgrown gardens or on concrete roofs,

Marvelling at the view from their light-polluted

Homes, wondering what they would see if only

They could escape the Bright and find a place

Without the blinding security lights’ flares

And streetlights’ orange glare…

Of course, I missed the breathless climax

Of their brief encounter. For half a dozen days

Either side of that ringed-in-red date

My sky was thick with cloud fat and foul,

A star- and planet-hiding shroud draped o’er

The Auld Grey Town that was not pulled away

Until the planet parade had passed by,

And the next time I looked to the west

The best view had come and gone:

Unseen by me, Venus and Jupiter had chastely

Touched fingers then parted, leaving

The lovesick gas giant fading, falling

Forlornly towards the rooftops and trees

While the Goddess of Love soared higher,

Growing ever-brighter as she climbed…

Cheated? Yes. But I have fine memories

Of some magical nights, and a hundred photographs,

Taken from the shores of moonlit, duck-dotted lakes

And crumbling castle walls. Sometimes in company,

More usually alone I stood and watched those distant

Worlds waltzing across the western sky,

My so-often-now world weary eyes

Suddenly wide again with wonder at the beauty of it all,

Listening to them calling “Look at us! See

How gloriously we shine above your sleepy little town…!”

…Far apart now, their dusky dalliance a thing of the past,

Venus and Jupiter are just bright stars once more;

The night sky’s restless showbiz spotlight has swept on,

Picking out Saturn, Mars and a waning Moon,

The Great Conjunction relegated

To Celestial Celebrity Has Been history.

Which is how it should be.

The Earth turns, and turns, and turns, setting a universe

Of stars and planets wheeling around pale Polaris,

Lonely and sentinel-still,

While the Milky Way floats serenely

Through her snow-globe of glitter-flake galaxies,

The prickling breeze of a billion billion suns’ solar winds

Blowing on the faces of the few evolved apes

Brave enough to lift their eyes from the grey

Landscapes of their everyday lives and catch

A fleeting glimpse of beauty in the Great Beyond…

© Stuart Atkinson 2012