Thursday, 27 August 2015

Science and Story at Space Centre - Siobhan Logan

An August Blog Event - Leicester Writers

My final Leicester Writer Visitor has a  story to tell that is truly out of this world. Siobhan, a writer friend for many years, is more than qualified to tell the story herself so please give an astronomical welcome to Siobhan Logan:

Thanks to Jacob Ross for this picture
Next week I am joining scientists and astronomers to celebrate the Rosetta space mission at the National Space Centre. Pinch me now. In all honesty, I was rubbish at science at school. The Bunsen burners scared me, Physics was the dark arts and the only bit I enjoyed was drawing diagrams. Yet as a poet and storyteller I don't seem to be able to stay away. Why didn't they tell me then that physics could explain rainbows and Northern Lights or take you on astral journeys across the solar system?

So when the European Space Agency steered a space probe 317 million miles from Earth to land on the alien world of a comet, I was on the edge of my seat. Watching Philae plunge into the darkness, 'may-fly winged, fire-fly bright', I knew I wanted to write about it. The drama of Philae's tricky descent, only to bounce out of sight, was riveting enough. But then there were the extraordinary photo-shots of comet 67P's landscape that mother-ship Rosetta captured. I'm quite a visual writer and those black cliffs, empty dunes and mysterious sink-holes had me mesmerised for months.

The other thing that hooked me is the ESA's preoccupation with myth. They named their mission after the Rosetta stone that decoded the language of Egyptian hieroglyphs. And they are promising to unlock our solar system's secrets as comets are believed to be amongst the oldest bodies left-over from its formation. As I researched the myths, I found more parallels. The Egyptian version of astronomy revolved around the long, perilous and cyclical journeys of the sun-god Ra, sailing his boat across our skies by day and through the underworld at night. A wonderful analogy for Rosetta's trip, dodging fierce jets of ice-dust and gas as the comet's orbit brings it back towards the sun.

So here I am relishing this collaboration with local scientists and preparing a 'mash-up' of poetry & physics, ancient myth and modern science to enthral our audience. My poems will appear in the form of an Egyptian scroll and we have a 'build-your-own comet demo'. Come join us! It's on Tues. 1st September 7pm at the National Space Centre. Leicester Astronomical Society welcome guests (£2 on door) but advise pre-booking on their Facebook page here.

You can read more about this exciting event on Siobhan's blogon this University of Leicester press releaseon the Rosetta Blog and on the Space Centre Website.

Siobhan Logan's prose/poetry collections Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights Journey and Mad, Hopeless and Possible: Shackleton's Endurance Expedition are both published by Original Plus Press. They have been performed at venues including the British Science Museum, National Space Centre, Ledbury Poetry Festival and British Science Festival.
Between a teaching day-job, she writes, blogs, reviews, mentors other writers, offers workshops, performs, gives talks and writes some more. In 2014 she led WEM's first-ever digital residency on writing Letters to the Unknown Soldier at Paddington Station. Her latest obsession is space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier …

Siobhan's blog Shaking out the Colours 
Siobhan's website

Thank you so much for all your visits during this month devoted to Leicester writers. As I've already said, there are many, many more of us. It truly is an exciting place for wordsmiths to live. Next week I'll be back with my usual mix of work, life and thoughts. Have a good Bank Holiday weekend.



  1. Hi Ros and Siobhan - isn't it amazing how things tie in and the subjects we used to dislike and not be interested in ... suddenly fascinate us and teach us ... have fun - the whole day and outcomes will be so interesting.

    Siobhan - you have done loads and are obviously very pro-active ... however the space probe and its landing on the comet was an incredible success story - with so much more to come from it.

    Good luck to you both - and enjoy the bank holiday weekend .. cheers Hilary

  2. Indeed Hilary - It's mind-boggling how the scientists at ESA are managing to steer a space-probe 317 million miles from Earth and with the time-delay in communications too. Rosetta is flying right in the middle of all that material flying off the comet - including pieces the size of a breeze block. Like cowboys riding a comet rodeo ... Hats off to them!

  3. Wow. This is an event I would absolutely HAVE to attend, if it weren't for that nasty ol' Atlantic Ocean standing between us. :)

    I love the idea of a virtual marriage between science and the arts, because my interest level is high for both. Perhaps endeavors like this will help forge a better understanding between the two.

  4. hi Susan
    Yes, I find myself more and more working at this boundary between science and the arts - coming at the science as an enthusiastic amateur who loves a great story. And the sheer wonder of that great ultimate wilderness that is space. When I was working on a book about the Northern Lights, I was very struck by the similarities between the ancient myths of arctic peoples about a Land of Day in the sky peopled by ancestors and hunters - and the scientific story of solar plasma streaming through space to collide with our magnetosphere. For both narratives, the aurora was a gateway between two dimensions, the earthly and the other-worldly. With the Rosetta mission, I'm finding similar parallels with Egyptian myths ...

  5. Absolutely fascinating combination of fact and myth. I was never interested in science at school either, or much or anything else except English lit and to a lesser extent language. How things changed as I grew up. I do hope this is a very successful day and wish I could be with you.

  6. Yes Jo - I think the scientific community has learned how to engage us with their adventures - the ESA publicity around the landing was very well done & they're won awards for their work with schools & teachers around Rosetta mission. I like to think poetry can offer another language to tell that story ...


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