THIS past twa years ah hae bin warkin wi Professor John Brown (Astronomer Royal fir Scotland) oan a buik o cosmic science, eemagery, an poetry. It’s title? Oor Big Braw Cosmos. Due shortly, the buik’s publish bi Luath Press. It hus a deliberately Scottish slant tae it, amang its pages o fascinatin cosmic science we alsae ettle tae mak the public awaur o a wheen o Scots wha hae punched way abune their weicht wi their contributions tae human knowledge, in perteecular astronomy.

In fact, the buik is dedicatit tae the memory o James Clerk Maxwell – aiblins the greatest scientist that e’er leeved – an aiblins the yin the public ken least aboot! Einstein said that his ain discoveries cuid no hae bin made athoot the wark o Maxwell.

The subject is timeous in this new era o space traivel an discovery; Elon Musk’s motor caur stravaigin tae Mars; Nasa an China explorin Mars an the Mune wi new rovers an equipment; probes bein laundit oan comets … Thair nae dout oor great-graundweans wull see human biggins an clachans oan oor near neebors in space.

Some kenspeckle public figures hae commented oan the buik; Dava Sobel, author of Longitude:“Some …probe the vastness and majesty… of our cosmos with mathematics, others … through verse. In this delightfully audacious book … John Brown and Rab Wilson… unite their cosmic visions … The result is positively four-dimensional.”Prof Chris Lintott, University of Oxford, People Science, Zoouniverse Galaxy Zoo project and The Sky at Night: “John Brown has always had a unique way of talking about astronomy, bringing cutting-edge ideas to the widest possible audience. This exciting collection [is] a brand new way to catch up with [current] cosmic thinking, with a Scottish twist.” Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Visiting Professor at Oxford University: “This volume, with its use of poetry in Scots to give verbal colour to cosmic beauty and wonder … will … reach out to people who otherwise might not venture [there].”

READ MORE: An hoo dae ye think this relates tae Ulster Scots?

This is an excitin time tae be writin anent space an astronomy, fir if there wis e’er a contest fir the era in whilk the universe around us gien the greatest excitement, ane o the strongest contenders maun be this yin, that coincidentally encompasses the lives o OBBC’s twa authors

Mind, this era hus alsae seen a healthy muive awa frae the ill-thocht but damagin divide atween airts an science as setten oot bi CP Snow in his fawmous 1959 Rede Lecture, its thesis bein that “the intellectual life of the whole of western society” wis split intil twa cultures – the sciences and the humanities. Earlier human history kythes that veesionaries lik Omar Khayyam (11th-century Persian polymath) an the mair raicent Edgar Allan Poe hud interests spannin poetry, astronomy an mathematics.

It hus aft bin cited that “there are more stars in the Universe (over 10 thousand billion billion = 10^22) than there are grains of sand on all the beaches on Earth”.

Mair starns in heivin,
Than saund oan aa the beaches –
Ken whit ah’m sayin?!

Houaniver, the fact bides that there’e mair atomic nucleons than that in wan fingernail! Oor buik is jam-packed wi byordnar cosmic lear sic as this.

The the universe micht inhaud a wheen o starns, but it is aye-an-oan a gey muckle place.

The distance athort oor ain Milky Way is anent 100,000 licht years; tae Andromeda m31 (wir closest galactic neebor – an the anely galaxy

veesible tae the naukit ee) is aroond 2 million licht years; an across the entire veesible universe is the colossal distance o ower 10 billion licht years. In terms o traivel, wan surreal wey tae visualise this is tae compare a trip across the hail universe traivellin at hauf the speed o licht wi a train journey frae Glesga til London. In order tae mak the trips tak the samen length o time, the speed o the train wid hae tae be aboot 1mm per century, makkin e’en Britain’s trains seem fast.

In spite o aa thae undeemous starns oot there, that “oot there” is gey big an empty. In fact space is that empty that gin ye flattened the huge spherical universe in diameter in wan dimension intae a uniform disk wi that same diameter but wi the density o watter, the disk wid be aboot the thickness o a penny!

Oor Big Braw Cosmos delves intae an omnigaddrum o cosmic science an facts; sic as the dumfounerin munes o oor ain solar system and that life micht exist inside cauld remote (non Goldilocks zone) munes due tae tidal heatin; Jupiter’s mune Io fir exaumpil; the story ahint the Astronomer Royal’s Coat o Airms; an stories o Scots constellations …

Then the pantheon o much negleckit Scots astronomers o the past, wi some weemin wha showed their male counterpairts the road in an age whaur it wis aamaist impossible fir weemin tae shine in sic areas. The likes o Mary Somerville (Clydesdale £10 note) ane o the maist eminent scientists o the Victorian age. Williamina Fleming, whase great warks at Harvard Observatory (late 19th/early 20th century) included recordin ower 10,000 stellar spectra an discoverin 310 variable stars, 10 novae and 59 nebulae, sic as the fawmous Horsehead Nebula and Fleming Triangular Wisp. It’s heich time oor weans wir gettin tocht aboot these Scottish heroes – an a wheen mair forby!

We alsae explore Robert Burns an his knowledge an inclusion o cosmic bodies, events an phenomena in his warks. In ane o his frantic letters tae Agnes Mclehose he imagines the pair o thaim stravaigin thegaither oan distant planets!

Oor Big Braw Cosmos wull be the subject o a talk John Brown an masel are daein at Embra Science Festival oan Sunday, April 7, at 3pm. See:

Here’s the openin poem frae the buik ...

Prologue: The Makar

Aathing hus its plan;
The Makar taks his compass,
An measuirs aathing oot;
Cubits lowp tae licht years,
Frae Alpha til Omega.
Thon void athoot form,
Thae heivins that inhaud it,
Licht o daw an lesser licht o nicht,
The lift fill’t wi undeemous starns…
At aince unkent an yet, fameeliar.
Einstein’s eldritch mystery,
Bides aye its reddin up.
But syne; A muckle bang!