It’s written in the stars

I have been watching a lot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos lately. Astronomy is something which has always been a great interest of mine. It’s a comfort to me to look at the night sky, searching for the constellations and planets that reveal themselves night by night, as we wind our way across the elliptic on Earth’s journey around the celestial sphere. Star gazing is something to truly get lost in, because the stars are a window into the past, the light we see now just a shadow left behind by a long dead sun. It’s in this thought, that I draw symmetry to my love of Them. I can’t help but think that these same stars looked down upon the victories, the defeats, the bravery and the suffering – every moment of the Great War. The cemetery headstones like silent stars of Portland stone shining their light of the past, in the galaxy of the old front line with its endless stories and secrets.

World War 1 is sometimes referred to as the ‘chemists’ war’ due to the development of poison gas weapons and synthetic fuels, but it also had an impact on physics. On August 21st 1914, a rare celestial event took place – a total solar eclipse. Erwin Finlay-Freundlich, a colleague of Albert Einstein was on an expedition in the Crimea to monitor the event as part of the study into General Relativity, but the expedition came to a swift halt when war broke out and he and some of his party were interned in Russia as enemies of the state. Since Freundlich could not collect his data, there were no results to compare with Einstein’s initial predictions included as part of his write up on the Theory of General Relativity published in early 1914. Had Freundlich’s expedition succeeded, the results (which differed greatly from Einstein’s 1914 predictions) would have cast great doubt over Einstein’s definitive publication of the theory, which followed a year later in 1915. It’s not inconceivable therefore, to think that the Great War helped to bring early credence to Einstein’s major theory, which now underpins much of modern day astrophysics.

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An ‘eclipse camp’ in the Crimea, 1914

It is in these seemingly insignificant events of the Great War where the power of the conflict can sometimes be seen best. As one man’s life was moved off course it helped to shape our acceptance and understanding of a seminal gravitational theory, and therefore, our universe. The connections to war are all around us, in everything, and just as with star gazing, once you start seeing them, the more you will continue to.

 

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