Michael Watson, Comet NEOWISE
Michael Watson photographed Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) from Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario just after 11 p.m. on July 17, 2020.
Education and evolution

Managing editor Allendria Brunjes talks about the changing world, and how the astronomy community can learn to adapt.

In the middle of July, I went out to Georgian Bay and paddled around Philip Edward Island, near Ontario’s beautiful Killarney Provincial Park. Though I love kayaking and I’ve been doing it for years, I have tended to shy away from open, windy waters.

Not this time. I was out in the waves, edging, bracing and using knowledge and muscles I have built over the years but rarely tested. It was scary for me, paddling alone without a soul in sight, but I did fine. One of the reasons I went was to see Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE in a dark sky, which I’m told all true visual astronomers should see.

I wouldn’t say I’m a “true visual astronomer,” though. I was hired as managing editor of SkyNews for my abilities in the publishing industry. Though I have always loved reading about space science and astronomy, at this time last year I did not know who Charles Messier was. I had never heard of a GoTo system. I wouldn’t have really known that a comet was passing through our Solar System, nor would I have taken binoculars into a dark area to watch its passage through our skies.

As such, since taking this position, I have been going through a steep, well-loved learning process.

Learning can be a scary endeavour. It involves opening yourself up to the fact that you could be so very wrong about that which you think you know. It requires listening, vulnerability and asking questions. Even though I’ve had some wonderful help and brilliant teachers, this job has at times felt like a scary solo paddle off unknown shores.

We have all been tested in strange waters over these past few months. From countries’ COVID-19 reactions to the #BlackLivesMatter and #ShutdownSTEM movements, many of us are facing new realities that, though they existed, were never perhaps in our fields of view.

Many people are facing their changing worlds with grace and calm, open to education and evolution. They are wearing masks and washing hands, working to create inclusive spaces and tearing down structures that hold up racism and race-based violence.

The struggles to bring awareness to these issues are everywhere. They are within the astronomy and science communities, and it is our duty to learn what they are.

Perhaps you are not part of a population at risk of catching COVID-19. Maybe you have never felt the sting of racism keeping you from doing something you love. It doesn’t mean these things don’t exist. It doesn’t mean that this magazine should turn a blind eye to the world around us and how it affects the people reading these pages.

I’ll repeat myself — learning can be a scary endeavour. It involves opening yourself up to the fact that you could be so very wrong about that which you think you know. It requires listening, vulnerability and asking questions.

The astronomy community is made of people who have these strengths when targeting the skies. Let’s remember to harness those skills when we shift the focus back down here to Earth.

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