107. Gary Fildes: Being inspired by dark skies and stars

In episode 107 of the Access to Inspiration podcast, host Sue Stockdale interviews Gary Fildes, an astronomer and the founder of the Keilder Observatory in the UK. Gary’s passion for astronomy and his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject have contributed to the success of the observatories he has worked at. They discuss the distinction between being an astronomer and an astrophysicist and how Gary’s interest in astronomy was sparked by childhood experiences with a telescope and seeing the Milky Way. Gary reflects on his journey to making astronomy his career and the challenges he faced in a working-class environment that didn’t prioritize science.

About Gary Fildes
Gary Fildes is an outreach astronomer, specialising in public engagement centres in astronomy. Fildes is the Founder and ex – CEO Lead Astronomer of the Kielder Observatory in the UK and is currently lead Astronomer at the Grassholme Observatory which he also founded. An author and with numerous TV and media appearances under his belt. Fildes has firmly established himself as a leading light in the UK astronomy scene. Gary’s experience and knowledge in the development of accessible, exciting and inspiring astronomy centres is unparalleled.

In recognition of Gary’s achievements, he was awarded an honorary MSc degree in Astrophysics from Durham University in 2012. Then in 2017 he was also awarded an honorary degree from the University of Sunderland. He has presented on BBC TV and many radio shows. It is widely acknowledged that these observatories success is due to Gary’s ability to communicate his passion, enthusiasm and encyclopaedic knowledge of astronomy to all who want to listen.  In July 2016, Gary published his first book ‘An Astronomers Tale’ a bricklayers guide to the Galaxy.

Connect with Gary Fildes via Website |  TwitterYouTube | Facebook | LinkedIn

Time Stamps
00:33 Passion for astronomy.
09:09 Passion and determination lead to success.
10:08 Importance of astronomy for society.
14:04 Inspiration and passion through astronomy.
19:09 Preserving dark skies is crucial.
23:26 Passion for astronomy fuels education.
27:53 Passion and enthusiasm are infectious.

Key Quotes

  • Astronomy is the source of everything, the foundation of our understanding of the universe.” 
  • “Astronomy is not just a job for science, but also for philosophy and religion, as it explores the true nature of reality.” 
  • “Astronomy saved my life and gave me purpose. It is a passion that fuels my every day.” 
  • “Dark skies are a human right, and preserving them is essential for our connection to the universe.” 
  • “The observatories I have built are my contribution to inspiring and educating others about the wonders of astronomy.” 
  • “The universe is a vast and interconnected system, from the tiniest particles to the largest galaxies.” 
  • “Stargazing collectively allows us to share our experiences and deepen our understanding of the universe.” 
  • “Astronomy is an accessible, holistic, natural resource that should be embraced by all.” 
  • “The curiosity and passion for astronomy should be nurtured in young minds, as it can inspire future innovators.” 

This series is kindly supported by Squadcast by Descript –the remote recording platform which empowers podcasters by capturing high-quality audio and video conversations. Find out more at squadcast.fm

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Gary Fildes Transcription

00:00 *Sue * Hi, I’m Sue Stockdale and welcome back to Series 15 of the Access to Inspiration podcast, where you can be inspired by people who may be unlike you. Now if you’ve ever looked up at the sky at night and wondered about the stars and the planets, then today’s guest knows all about this. Gary Fildes is an astronomer who has an immense amount of passion and was the founder of the Kielder Observatory in the UK, as well as the Grassholme Observatory, where he currently works as lead astronomer. And it’s widely acknowledged that these observatories’ success is really due to Gary’s ability to communicate that passion and enthusiasm, as well as his encyclopaedic knowledge of astronomy. And I think you’ll get a sense of this from our conversation today. Welcome to the podcast, Gary. It’s great to speak to you today.

Gary Thank you for having me. I’m very excited and pleased to be here.

Sue One of the things I’m really interested to discover from you today, Gary, is the difference between an astronomer and an astrophysicist. How would you define those two words?

01:18 Gary It’s a bit tricky, actually. How I would describe it really would be that if you were an astronomer, it would be sort of an overarching description of somebody who works in the field of astronomy. I think an astrophysicist, if he was talking to his mates in the pub, would describe himself as an astronomer. But professionally, you’d describe yourself as an astrophysicist, I guess. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty, astronomy would be the overarching term. Astrophysics would be the nitty-gritty of the bits and pieces that we do, which encompasses physics in its real raw-blooded form, which is in the physics of the universe. Because in every sense, the universe is like a big old lop or a reed. That’s the way to think about it, I guess.

Sue So what initially sparked your interest in the skies above us, Gary?

Gary My interest piqued when I was a young kid, I guess, when a couple of things happened. Once, an older brother of mine, he got a small refracting telescope for Christmas, and wasn’t particularly interested in it. I was, messed around with it and got it to work, pointed it at the moon. I could sort of see an image in my mind’s eye, but I was probably about five or six years old. So, I think that image, if I could sort of relay it now and transport it so everybody could see what I saw then, it wouldn’t look anything like the moon, I would guess, because it would have been out of focus. But that was my first memory. After that would have been my dad, who took me on all day down into Devon, and I got to see the Milky Way for the first time.

The moon observation, I was probably about five, the Milky Way thing, probably six or seven. And that was it. And I saw the Milky Way, that was it. I was hooked. I was like, what the hell is that? Right?

Sue For most of us at that age, and in those days, perhaps, all we thought of Milky Way was a chocolate bar.

Gary Yeah. I mean, I think then, I don’t even think Milky Way’s chocolate bars were even around. Maybe they were. Certainly, I didn’t usually get them. But I mean, yes, you’re right. And as a kid, you’re used to seeing everyday boundaries that you come across in the world, like your parents, your home, where you live, your school, and all the rest of it. But then, I think that the thing that hit me then was there’s more. There’s something else out there that is not this, and it’s not that. And it just made something inside me click, I guess.

03:15 *Sue * So how did you then follow that passion? What was it that really drew you to then discover more about that and to make it your passion and your livelihood, I guess, these days?

03:26 Gary Yeah. I guess I invented my own reality in lots of ways. I’ve had a really weird career in astronomy, how I got to where I am, and I thought about that. I think, looking back, it was a fascination for the things I’ve just described. And then as I started to get older, I wasn’t fortunate enough, I guess, maybe is the word. I wasn’t surrounded by an environment, let’s just say, which encouraged kids my age to think about working in science and to think about the world being a world of possibilities, which it absolutely is. I firmly believe that. The world I lived in then, growing up in Sunderland, a working-class family, working class area. And especially as a little boy, you were destined to be a little scrapper to stay alive. And then you were sort of channelled towards working in the military, the shipyards, building sites, or some sort of manual job like that. So, I studied astronomy and I read books in astronomy and got really excited about it. In exactly the same way I meet children today in my professional career, getting excited about astronomy, it just wasn’t like what it is now then, I guess. And well, it wasn’t for me. It was like a sort of a guilty pleasure, a hidden thing, I guess. I used to keep it to myself. It was mine.


04:34 *Sue * What happened next? How did you then go from that guilty pleasure to making it your career?

04:45 Gary Well, sort of life just got a hold of me, I guess. And I remember the school I went to, they were running a bus to the college, a nearby college. And it was for all the guys who were going to go off and learn manual skills like joinery, carpentry, brickwork, plastering, metal. And I’m getting on the bus, right? And I’m like 14 or something. And I’m getting on the bus. I remember physics teachers saying, Gary, where on earth are you doing? You’re not getting on that bus. And I actually did end up on that bus. And I ended up with a family at a really quite a young age. And then life just got old of me, and my priorities changed. And sixth form was an option, but I was like, I just wanted to get out and work. I needed to. And then I ended up on a building site for a while and I ended up building sites for quite a while.

And then in the late thirties, early forties, I decided I need to change my life completely. During this period of time, I was constantly studying astronomy and physics. And I was keeping the brain alive by engaging myself with my studies, literally with books, but nothing really practical. And then in the early forties, I guess late thirties, I got involved with the Sun and Astronomical Society. And then I started to use what I’d learned with the Sun and Astronomical Society and started just being around like-minded people who seemed to have a real flair for astronomy like I did. And then I thought, you know what, this is what my calling is, it just felt like in the spirit in my soul that this is what I should be doing. This is where I belonged. And I’d missed it from a kid, and I should have maybe found a way to make it happen. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have got on that bus at all. I would have stayed in studying and I’m pretty sure I know I would have been now.

6.19 Sue So that’s interesting. And how did you get involved up at Kielder?

6.23 Gary One thing led to another. I met a guy called David Sinden and David was the chief optical engineer for Grubb  Parsons. And they made the William Herschel telescope, for example, which is part of the Isaac Newton group on La Palma now. David took me up to the dark skies of Northumberland, where I got introduced to the Kielder Forest area. And the skies were phenomenal. And I thought that was pretty amazing. And then I decided I wanted to build an observatory. So, I did. Right about at the same time, I got involved with Durham University. And that’s when it all really started, I guess, because Durham University have just been my saviour, really. They’re just amazing. The guys at Durham I hold them so highly. And what a wonderful facility and a wonderful university and the people there are just the best, especially the physics department. They are only ones I know there. I met a guy there at Durham University, Dr. Nigel Metcalfe. And this was sort of, gosh, when was that? That would have been like 25 years ago, I guess. I just started turning up and asking lots of questions.

And Nigel was getting involved with me with the observatory and keeping me steered in the right direction. And then I just started meeting all the team. I learned through osmosis. And I started turning up at the university more and more and more and more and more. And then I would sit in on lectures, and I would do all sorts of quizzing of PhD students. And there I was just like a permanent fixture. And I think they just would have seen me in the physics department and thought, oh, Gary’s here again. And I just thought they must have thought I was just some sort of weirdo or something. And then I got friendly with a guy called Arnold Wolfendale, Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale, who was the 14th astronomer royal. And he took me under his wing, quite literally, really. And then I started to learn all sorts of stuff. The observatory started to take off. And then in 2012, they awarded me a master’s degree in astrophysics from Durham University, which was just amazing for all my contributions to astronomy. And then I opened the Kielder Observatory in 2008. And then that just went pretty mental, really. And I ended up working there full time. I got published in 2016, received a fellowship from Sunderland University in 2017, and just started working in outreach and astronomy, really, and trying as best as I could to study all the time. But the people I met worked all over the world, visited some of the biggest observatories around the world as well, and met some amazing people, asked the questions I needed answers for, and ended up giving talks. I came to the university, Durham University, all around the world. And it’s just been an amazing journey, really, I guess.

08:43 *Sue * Well, sometimes the road less travelled gives us different experiences and insights along the way. I just love how you put into the conversation there, Gary. And then I just created an observatory, as if it’s like building a garden shed. And so, I want to dig a little bit more into that in terms of what does it take to build or create an observatory there in Kielder Forest?

09:02 Gary Well, partnership, bloody mindedness, and just like a real determination and a passion for it to succeed, I guess. And I knew there was an appetite for astronomy amongst the public. And I was just determined to build something. And I set about trying to raise the money for it, but it was pretty difficult. This was like shortly after the millennium, and it was like there wasn’t a lot of dosh slushing around. So I had to really try hard. And then it got on the radar of a few people who helped me raise the money and some great collaborations with the Forestry Commission, for example, and the Kielder Partnership. And then we raised £450,000 to build the observatory, started a competition with RIBA – Royal Institute of British Architects to design the facility. And then they installed me as the astronomical advisor on the project. And then I was the lead astronomer at the observatory and the observatory opened in 2008. Then I was promoted to the director. Then I was the chief executive as well later on in sort of 2017-ish, something like that. Yeah, so it was quite a rise really, but it’s been quite a journey.

10:08 *Sue * Well, it sounds like it. And what does astronomy do for society? I can hear your passion and your energy and your commitment to share that knowledge with us. I guess the underlying question is why?

10:22 Gary Well, I mean, I think answer the first part of your question would be the easier bit, I guess. And I guess the question sort of hinges around why astronomy matters. And I do get asked this question. I’ve had people at the observatory, for example, underneath a wonderful clear night, beautiful stars and all the rest of it, and really big research-grade telescopes. And people say, what’s the point of this?

Well, we’re never going to be able to go to these places and show galaxies at cosmological distance, for example. And they say things like, well, why does it matter? And you know what? That’s a legitimate question to ask. But in lots of ways, it’s like almost ask the question back to people as like, why would you want to even ask that question? Because I think science, especially in physics, astrophysics, and theoretical physics, is to try to find out the true nature of reality. And I think it’s not just a job for science. I think, and my colleagues are going to hate me when I say this, it’s a job for philosophy in that as well. And a job for religion in there as well. And I’m not a religious person at all, not in any way, shape, or form.

But I think the epistemology around conversations about the true nature of reality are important. And you have to engage everybody in that because we are human beings, and we do things our way. And we have to build all these mechanisms, I guess, into the answer. But the answer for me, asking why does astronomy matter? Because it’s the source of everything, right? And if we look at it from the astronomical and scientific perspective, we’ve now found, for example, all of the bases for ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid in meteorites. So all you need after that is sugars and phosphates, a lot of the right conditions, and a bit of Darwinism, and you have the anti-genetic code for all life on Earth. So you can think of meteorites as like space beads, right? They’re just buzzing around, all the bits and pieces needed to build and support everything we can see, touch and feel in the universe.

And then you think about stars and star formation, and we think about stars like our sun cooking up the elements through nuclear fusion in the cores, and then these stars die off. And this is how you distribute the elements into stellar space only for new stars to sweep all up and build solar systems in the future, and life gets going. And then you think about, well, all right, then you’ve got that, and that’s a big thing. That’s a conversation and a real awakening that science has given us. From a reductionist standpoint, you can see why that’s important.

And then you think about, well, what about life here on Earth? And I think that’s where these questions really originate from. When you think about the development of the instruments we used in astrophysics and in exploring the universe, then think about the internet, for example, Tim Berners-Lee worked at CERN, right? And he did develop the World Wide Web. Everybody likes the World Wide Web, some people don’t, but it’s useful. And then we think about the tools that have come because of physics like MRI machines, X-ray machines, and all the rest, but then it’s important. But I think the real fundamental basis and the basic point is, if to me, human beings are actually going to succeed in this world, and we are going to sort of climb out of this technological adolescence where we stumble through our existence with making the rich richer and the poor poorer and the adversity that some human beings have to live under currently, that has to change and it will change if we stay around long enough.

And if we can climb out of that and we evolve into a more caring cultured society where we have this real equity amongst all human beings, where everybody benefits and where everybody’s important. And I think what will be a massive, massive part of that structure, almost like in an Aldous Huxley-style, brave new world version, astronomy would be front and center. Our awareness of our place in the universe and our awareness that we’re part of something amazing and we need to embrace that. And we need to make sure that we enthuse and inspire every single child that ever breathes in this planet, what the part of and where we are right now in the universe and our awareness of where we are.

That’s the part astronomy plays because it is an inspiration beyond the technological, that’s an inspiration of the spiritual as well. And I think we’d realize that spiritually we’re probably part of a huge family of civilizations out there. Some of which we might not want to get to know, but a lot of which I bet we probably would. Sorry if that was a long-winded answer, but it sort of really does encompass everything. And why do I want to do it? Why am I passionate about it? Why does it matter to me? You know, in lots of ways, Sue had saved my life astronomy and it gave me purpose in life. And I think all human beings need to feel that.

14:50 *Sue *I love how you’ve just connected the bigger system, the whole universe that we are part of into the act of looking up at the sky and engaging your passion. And that it goes for me from the very massive to the very tiny and seeing the connectedness between both things and that it matters to you. You talk there about it saved your life and that it’s your purpose and you’ve expressed that enthusiasm that you have for your subject. I’m wondering how could you help other people to access their inspiration? What would be the sort of top tips you would share or your insights you’ve learned?

15:25 Gary I remember engaging a little bit with philosophy and a little bit with mindfulness. I think for me, and I don’t know if this would work for everyone, but like you asked me so I guess I’ll answer, it is like, it’s to turn your thinking brain off and feel it. And if it feels in your very soul and that this is the right thing for me, then go for it. I’ve got four kids, well they’re all adults now, they’re all professional people. Some are academics, others are not. And they’re all lead professional lives. And what I always said to the children when they’re grown up is just push your life in the direction you want to go in and the bits and pieces will take care of themselves. But you’ve got to feel that passion about your life every day because it doesn’t last forever. So, I think to me would be to turn the thinking brain off and feel it. And if it feels right, do it and don’t stop.

16:10 *Sue * It’s such a lovely, simple and powerful description you’ve given us there, Gary. How much should passion play a role in you getting the funding for the observatory and for the work that you have done over the years?

16:25 Gary I think it’s played a really big part because I had to sell the idea quite literally to people who were interested in the project. When we were raising funds for the Kielder Observatory, I was interviewed on a few occasions by various different funding bodies as to the legitimacy of something like National Observatory in the Kielder Forest. I tell people or sell the idea strongly why it’s so important, why if we funded and built something like an observatory for members of the public to attend, you are providing a service for society that is essential. You would be enabling people to access a part of their lives that they can’t in any other way. And for example, people do now have telescopes in their gardens, that’s always been the case. To do it collectively, so if you get like 30 or 40 people in the same building on a beautiful starry evening and you get to sort of talk and think about astronomy, it’s a collective thing.

I think that’s really powerful. If you’re doing it on your own, it’s amazing. And I’ve had some great experiences under the stars just by myself, just standing in the wilderness, right? But when you do it collectively, remember thinking like human beings, we are like relationships seeking missiles, aren’t we? We can’t survive without relationships. So, I think being able to collectively stargaze and just look out in the depths of the universe and share our experiences as a group and listen to what other people think of that. Because quite often you’ll get people who like literally blow a fuse when they see things through a telescope. It’s like, oh my God, oh my God, I can’t believe it.

I remember one story. One lady came to the observatory up in Kielder Forest. This was 2012, 2013. She was quite elderly, and she looked at the planet Saturn. Now at this time Saturn was in Gemini, so it’s really high up in the sky. So we could see the rings of Saturn tilted towards us. So, you could just see this absolutely gobsmacking view of the planet Saturn. I mean, it was absolutely beautiful, right? And this lady had seen it and she started to cry, and she got very emotional. And I thought, this is a lovely response. And so, I quizzed her on it later and I said, that seemed like it was quite an emotional experience. Would you mind if I asked you what was the trigger and what caused that? And she told me that when she was a child, and she was easily in her eighties, she said when she was in the air raid shelters, when she was a child, her father would draw the planets and her favourite planet was Saturn. And that was the first time she’d saw it for herself. So I thought that was amazing. It’s like experiences like that, it’s just priceless.

18:47 *Sue * Wow. I’ve got goosebumps listening to your story there, Gary. Just to get a sense of how important that can be for people and how connecting really in the heart, as you said, not just in the head. I want to just turn our attention to the question of dark skies, because that’s something that’s disappearing fast from what I understand. Is that right?

19:05 Gary Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think with the spread of light pollution in all the cities, there’s more human beings and they put more lights outside and more supermarkets and car parks and highways. So, the light pollution is absolutely increasing. There’s a little bit of a problem in the awareness of most members of the public about outdoor lighting and what really works and what really doesn’t at all. So our ability to see the night-time sky is a human right in my eyes, and it’s being taken away from us because of the onset of how we as human beings ably demonstrate our ability to do things badly. And I think the way we light up the night-time sky is a great example of this.

But I’m hopeful that that will change, and that the preservation of dark skies will become more and more important. And this is why one of the real big motivators for me with the Kielder Observatory and the GrassHolme Observatory, where I work now, which is just a wonderful facility, that we can provide these little stargazing havens for people who come under beautiful dark skies and access the universe. That’s their primary purpose, these small little observatories that people know. And there’s lots of them all over the country now, and that’s great. That can only be a good thing. But dark skies are so important.

And when I went off to Chile and made Searching for Light, the documentary, this award-winning documentary, the night-time skies in Chile are magnificent. I mean, wowzah. And it’s because there’s big deserts there, like the Atacama, for example. But in Chile, they’ve actually written it into planning law and a law about the preservation of the dark skies. And what we do believe is by 2030, 75% of the world’s largest aperture telescopes will be in Chile in the Atacama Desert. So, they’ve got the Chilean government really invested in preserving. I just wish we were.

20.55 Sue Given your enthusiasm and passion that’s enabled you to build and create an observatory, could you turn that energy into the selling of dark skies at a national level?

21.00 Gary Yes, absolutely. I think I absolutely could. And I would like to be able to do that. It’s about making people listen. And the unfortunate by-product of the world we live in is like, dark skies, are they viable? Is there a net worth for dark skies? Well, there absolutely is. And if we have to sell it that way, let’s sell it that way. Because in 2013, Northumberland were awarded the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park Award. Now, when I first thought about this idea of the International Dark Sky Park, it was met with quite a few furrowed brows and raised eyebrows and people like, what’s this? What do you mean, Gary?

It was one thing building an observatory, but you talk about controlling people’s light and forcing them to turn the dark sky black. It was like the running for the hills. But now, of course, the International Dark Sky Park from a tourism perspective is massive. And I think this has to be woven into the technology of a forward thinking civilization, where if we hooked into the financial markets and money this and money that, and that’s one thing, right? And it seems to be that’s just what we’re stuck with for the near future. It’s just going to be the way it is. But it would be remiss of the policymakers not to watch the bottom end of all of this and think, well, as well as doing all that, let’s divert some of this finance into making sure that people can engage in what they want to do and what they are engaged in. And astronomy should be front and center in all of that. Astronomy is an accessible, holistic, natural resource that we should all have our eyes open up to. And in the long game, if you think about it in the long game for UK PLC, if you like, then why would you not want to inspire innovators of the future? And these young kids who might end up, I don’t know, doing whatever, if you give them the chance to think about how they could innovate in the future, then you have no idea who you’re going to inspire and enthuse for UK PLC. So I think dark skies could absolutely be the catalyst for that.

22:52 *Sue * It’s lovely to hear your energy and to express what possibilities there could be by having more dark skies around us, or even just entering it into our cognizance that there is an importance and a value to having dark skies in the different parts of the world, wherever the listener is located. If somebody has listened to this podcast, Gary, and they’re inspired by what you’re saying, and they want to take the first steps into understanding more about astronomy, just as you did when you were younger, what would you suggest would be a route to go from here?

23:20 Gary So if it’s a young person, I think the first thing I would say to people is buy a telescope. If you’ve got a small child or a child who’s shown an interest, show them a telescope, because the passion and the love for astronomy will fuel their education and the curiosity. And you can buy small telescopes and you can look at the planet and you can look at the moon, and you get excited, and you understand that. Start from the basics, you know, get a star chart, and look at the sky and say, look at the stars, even with the moon in it. And one of the first observations you will make is you cannot tell if the moon is in the foreground, or the stars are. I mean, that’s a great place to start.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the moon is in the foreground and the stars are way off behind it, but you can’t see it like that. So that’s an interesting starting point for a beginner just to step outside and look at the sky and think, oh yeah, absolutely true. This, of course, is what led earlier astronomers like Ptolemy, for example, Aristotle, Plato, or a Tostenes  all of the ancient Ionians looked at the sky and realized that all of the stars seem to be fixed and stationary and at the same distance. But they’re not, because we can measure distance now and it’s not arranged like that at all. So that’s a good one to start off with.

You can even question things like, I don’t know, what’s another good one, like the Copernican idea, this Copernicus, of course, postulated that we did not have an Earth- centred solar system or a universe as they call it. It was a sun-centred universe or a heliocentric universe. So, most people, it was actually Galileo who proved that theory. And so, the Copernican theory is the right one, that the sun’s at the center of the solar system. Okay, well, test that then. Get outside and any summer’s morning when the sun is rising, you’ll see the sun will rise in the east and then it’ll set in the west and then 24 hours later it’s in the east again. All right, what’s the conclusion then?

Well, the conclusion is it doesn’t look anything like that we are moving around it. It looks everything like it’s moving around us. So that’s an interesting observation just to get the curiosity piqued, I guess. And then, you know, then you can try to work out what’s going on. You realize the Earth is spinning on its axis and all the rest of it. And then so it gets really interesting very quickly. If you have a child, the young person who’s interested in a career in astronomy and really showing flair for mathematics and physics, don’t buy them a telescope. You’re not wasting your time, but it’s not the need.

Get them coding, get them to learn how to code, understand AI, get them to build websites, get them to build spreadsheets and get them used to a computer because that’s the future and that’s what they need, not a telescope.

Sue What pragmatism to your answer, Gary. Yeah. If we were to fast forward a few years into your life, what would you hope that your contribution will be to this world of astronomy?

Gary Oh, you know, I think starting off these astronomy centres, these Astro-observatories that I thought up and I got them run up and running. That’s my achievement. That’s my calling. I did it. And where everybody else said it couldn’t be done and it wouldn’t work, I did it and it worked. And I’m really proud of that. And I think the more of these little facilities that I can be part of, and I’m not finished yet, I’ve just started off a new one a couple of years ago and it’s flying, which is the GrassHolme Observatory in Middleton in Teesdale and it’s absolutely wonderful. And it’s where I’m off to after this, got a sold-out event tonight and it’s beautiful outside. So really looking forward to that.

So I think, yeah, just a fact that it inspired people to look up and think about the place in the universe and think about what’s out there. Right? You know, the observable universe has two trillion galaxies in it, right? And each one of those galaxies full of hundreds of billions of stars like a sun and the majority of them will have planets. I mean, that realization alone should stir you in your seat and you should think, wow, looking out into that universe and we just want tiny little worlds spinning around in ordinary, but that realization, why would you not want to find out what’s out there? Because it’s like when you get a telescope, because the universe, we can’t go there yet.

Maybe one day we can. All we do is look at it, right? And like light is the messenger of the universe, as I always say to people. And we’re like, we’re standing in our back garden, Sue, and there’s a fence right at our waist. There’s a fence and beyond the fence, it’s fast and goes on forever. We can’t go in. It’s like a magic garden that we can’t go into, but all we can do is with our binoculars and our telescopes, look to see what’s over the horizon, hopefully, see what’s inside of it. And that’s the fascination. And that realization is just, it should put a smile on your face every morning you wake up to think about what we’re part of, right? And I guess if my contribution could be just with a few people, make them realize that bit, then I’ll be happy.

27:58 *Sue * Well, you’ve certainly put a smile on my face in our conversation today, Gary. I think your energy and enthusiasm is infectious. I think your ability to translate what for some might seem scientific, difficult to understand, complicated, what you’ve shared with us in the last few minutes has really made it accessible and I’m sure will inspire our listeners. So, thank you so much for your time today. If people do want to find out more about you and the work that you’re doing, how might they do that?

28:25 Gary Well, they can check me out on my website, which is garyfildes.org. On there, I’ve got quite a lot of information and all my contact details are on that. Or they can check out the observatory where I’m working currently, which is the GrassHolme Observatory, which is www.grassholmeobservatory.com. And they can check out the facility where I work. It is a public observatory, so you’re welcome to come along and visit, see me up there. It’s a beautiful part of world and as I always say, we always get a disproportionate amount of clear sky, so there’s lots of clear skies to enjoy and it’s a wonderful facility with great kit.

28:56 *Sue * Fantastic. Well, we’ll put links to all of those things onto the show notes so people can find out more there. Thank you again for your time today, Gary, and I wish you well.

Gary Thank you. Cheers. Thanks for listening.

Sue I hope you enjoyed hearing from Gary and felt that passion as I did. Now remember, you can find transcriptions for this and more than a hundred other episodes on our website at access to inspiration.org and you can keep connected to us via social media. We’re on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, so just look out for access to inspiration. Next week, my guest is Kevin Chapman, who will be talking to me about the concept of physical intelligence. So I hope you can join us then.

Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra (he/him)
Producer: Sue Stockdale (she/her)