Stars and Plate Tectonics (Reflections on the R/V Kilo Moana)

When I was 18 years old my parents gave me a telescope for Christmas and for the next three, cold, dark, Canadian Winter months, I took it outside each night that the skies were clear enough to gaze up at the stars. I was absolutely transfixed by the beauty of the night sky, and whenever it wasn’t clear enough for star gazing I would spend hours looking up constellations using various books and sky charts, or reading about all kinds of exotic things happening out there in space and in my own backyard! That season of my life was very formative for me because it was a time during which my interest in science greatly expanded. Eventually this interest led me to study physics at university, and through studying physics I was eventually introduced to seismology – the study of waves travelling within the Earth. Upon being introduced to seismology, just as I had been with the stars, I became equally fascinated to learn about earthquakes, and how scientists use the enormous amounts of energy they release to “see” inside the planet!

As time passed, and as I progressed in my studies, my interests drifted away from the stars and I began to develop professional interests focused on this idea of using waves of energy generated by earthquakes to see inside the Earth. So much so that I decided to pursue a seismology-based PhD. Ultimately, it is by pursuing these interests that I ended up aboard the R/V Kilo Moana, heading toward the middle of the Pacific Ocean to participate in this deployment!

Its probably no surprise, then, that one of my favourite things about being on board a ship in the middle of the ocean is the amazing, unadulterated view of the night sky. It’s even better than I imagined it would be! So many more stars come out than I’m used to, that it almost makes recognizing familiar constellations more difficult than being in the middle of a huge city at night.

I am struck by the fact that this experience is pleasantly ironic. Although my interests have shifted over time, from the sky toward the Earth, and although I’m participating in this very ambitious experiment aiming to learn something new about tectonic plates in the oceans, it feels as though this voyage has reunited me with the stars. So in some sense, my interest in the stars brought me here to study the Earth, and my interest in the Earth afforded me the best possible view of the stars that I could have ever hoped for! For me, it’s a very gratifying reflection and it adds a lot to my overall excitement of being involved in this experiment.

 Stephen Mosher

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