Mount Toubkal and the scientific career

(January 3nd, 2009)

As I trek towards mount Toubkal, the highest peak (4167 meters) in the Maghreb, in Northern Africa, I cannot avoid to think that climbing a mountain is like to solve a scientific problem.

The most important things are to chose the target, the summit you want to reach; and the strategy, the path to the top, which implies a specific technical expertise, such as the use of ice-axe, crampons and so on.

In astronomy, like any other science, we also select a problem, like star formation in low-mass stars (one of my expertises), the specifics of that problem, such as the properties of very young objects when they still have an envelope and a circumstelar disk, and the technique (photometry or high resolution spectroscopy, for instance).

During the process, different obstacles appear in the way: insurmountable walls and wide cracks on the snow; lack of positive results or funding. But in most of the cases, there is always an alternative, one only need to look for it.

The summit of mount Toubkal, in January 3rd, 2009 (DByN).
The summit of mount Toubkal, in January 3rd, 2009 (DByN).

Climbing, like research, is a team effort. But in the end, it is also a personal challenge, a small Odyssey, and all people involved in the task want to achieve something, to arrive to their own Ithaca. For sure, endurance is a must.

Mount Jebel Ouanoukrim (4088 m), seen from the summit of mount Toubkal, in January 3rd, 2009 (DByN)
Mount Jebel Ouanoukrim (4088 m), seen from the summit of mount Toubkal, in January 3rd, 2009 (DByN)

Perhaps the most interesting thing is not to solve the problem, or to reach the top, but the way up, the beauty we can find: in the valleys and the surrounding ridges, in the unexpected results or new phenomenologies in the scientific arena. The aesthetic view of the problem, perhaps the ecstasy when we, alone and perhaps for a brief spell of time, face the whiteness of an untouched slope in the peak or frozen columns of water in a cascades, when we get a little closer to the truth, to the mysteries of nature.


Astronomy for Peace

Today my thoughts lay with friends and family in worn torn countries where on the 5th day of IYA 2009 some parts of the world have to suffer the atrocities of war. Being a second generation refugee I have had plenty of first hand experience living with the aftermath of the psychological effects it has

The Dawn of IYA 2009 in Indonesia – Why the Sun?

This is a fine place
Shining face to face
Those bonfire lights in the mirrored sky
The space between wonder and why

Ahh yes to yes to ahh ahh to yes
Why the Sun?… why the Sun?

Rush – Between Sun & Moon (Counterparts – 1993)

Why the Sun? that question is not simply a lyric from the musician (Rush). The similar question also asked by a reporter during our Dawn of IYA activities in Indonesia on 1st of January 2009.