The Cosmic Comedy
Strange phenomena in the sky are the most popular omens of all time: the passage of comets, eclipses of the sun and moon, meteorite hits and stars that suddenly light up. The end must be nigh. Cosmology represents humankind’s ultimate reaching for the stars, whether with a telescope or a rocket. The Cosmic Comedy lifts off with the question why navigate the universe? Are we compensating for a lack? Emptiness? What do we expect to find on the moon or on Mars that we don’t have on Earth?
The Cosmic Comedy is a philosophical meditation on the longing for a better world - beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. Our journey revolves around Westerman’s own axis, Westerbork in the Dutch province of Drenthe where he grew up. There the observatory with its world-class telescope Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope (WSRT), brainchild of pioneer Jan Oort, scans the sky with its majestic satellite dishes. On the site of the former Nazi transit camp. Nowhere is heaven so close to hell.
Beyond Westerbork, the author takes the reader to Franeker planetarium, the oldest working planetarium in the world. There in 1774, Eise Eisinga, a wool-comber by trade, built a model of the solar system in his living room to reassure people that a doomsday prediction that the planets would spiral out of their orbits to be burned up by the sun could not be true.
We also travel to Italy, where three centuries after Dante, Galileo Galilei, the father of observational astronomy, shifted Earth from the centre of the universe for good when he discovered Jupiter’s satellite moons. Westerman visits the villa in Tuscany where Galileo spent seven years imprisoned for his views. He also talks to contemporary Milanese astronomer Guiseppe Gavazzi and looks back on Christianity’s conflict with astronomy.
In poetic prose, Frank Westerman takes the reader on a grand tour through time, taking in our tilting image of the heavens, with or without god. Westerman comes to the conclusion that stargazing, driven by wonder, has changed our view of the heavens, while space travel, driven by rivalry, has changed our view of the earth. From Copernicus, Huygens and Schiaparelli to Yuri Gagarin and the first female robot in space, The Cosmic Comedy is science non-fiction at its most mind-blowing.