Letter to Aylan from an Astrophysicist and Science Communicator

Post originally written in Spanish in my blog El Lobo Rayado, with the title Carta a Aylan de un astrofísico divulgador.

Hi Aylan,

I’ve spent the last two days just thinking about you, your brother and your parents. It is hard to me to be concentrated on other things, I’m much more sensitive than usual, I cannot sleep well and I feel bad and also responsible for your destiny as a part of that huge silent mass of people who happily live in what some call the first world. Our everyday concerns are a trifle compared with those of your family and countrymen. We continuously complain if our football team does not win, if the price of the movie tickets (or the petrol, gas or electricity, just name it) raises, if the internet connection is too slow to read our favorite websites or, in my case, if the bad weather does not allow me to use the telescope or a committee of wise academics has not valued my science project for a new grant. But all these problems are just a very tiny thing when compared with a sea even bigger than the Mediterranean.

Do you know I have a son who is almost your same age? Sometimes he is a bit stubborn but he is still learning everything. I do not want to impose him any religion or any class separation by culture, race or sex. I just want him to know that all humans beings, whether Christians, Arabs, Jews, Indians, Chinese, Australian Aborigines, blacks, gays, straights, or any mix of any of these, have the same rights and responsibilities. They all have to respect and be respected for who and what they are. Unfortunately I think there are still few people on Earth who think like me. Otherwise I would not understand what is going on in this crazy world, very globalized for some things, but so separated for the things that really matter.

My son Luke speaks little yet, but he understands and is able to communicate in two different languages. I wish he will learn more languages ​​throughout his life. I consider that learning languages ​​and traveling open your mind and help a lot to understand our world. You’ve also traveled, but you have been forced to do so by the cruel circumstances that are destroying your native country. As in so many other wars, it is the lack of respect for those who do not have their same god or school of thought what is devastating your society. I hope that Luke also travels around the world when he grows up, but not as a “tourist” taking photos of everything he sees and does to post them into Facebook to show friends and (ex)girlfriends how cool he is, but to acquire a better understanding of our species and our planet. Thanks to his Spanish-English bilingualism he will be able to communicate with billions of people, with whom he will share experiences, ideas and adventures. All of this, I hope, will induce in him a better comprehension and appreciation of this small, pale blue dot in which we all live in.

There are many other worlds out there, Aylan, and it is very probable that during our generation we will be able to point a specific star in the night knowing that it has extraterrestrial life on it. I wish I could show you the sky and how to recognize the brightest stars, the constellations and the planets of our Solar System. You do not need a telescope or even binoculars to enjoy a starry sky. All countries on Earth are hung under the same sky, but not all stars can be seen at all points of the globe. The sky does not have any borders as it happens to the countries of the Earth (except the constellations, which were also artificially created by us), so you can freely jump from one star to another only guided by your imagination. Imagination can take you very far, if you have the ability and opportunity to use it.

Unfortunately I will never meet you, Aylan, or be with you and your brother, Galip, in an astronomical observation, I will never listen to your questions and ideas, and I will never share with you these scientists and philosophical thoughts. However, and besides teaching my son Luke, I still hope to show the majesty and beauty of the Nature to more children like you, whether they are in Spain, Australia or elsewhere I’m asked to go. I hope I’ll help them to understand how tiny and fragile our planet is and how beautiful is that the matter of the Cosmos has been recycled in a so complex way that it is able to think about their own origins.

Life, Aylan, is what must be protected first and before anything else. Life is the most precious thing that exists throughout the entire Universe, but our society still has to learn this. Perhaps through Science, and in particular Astronomy, I can help a little to move all those pebbles of sand that are needed to build a mountain. Just because of all of this all the worries and concerns I have recently had about the usefulness of my popular science and outreach activities and how to reach more people are even more important that what I originally thought. On the education and the teaching of the mutual respect to people who are not exactly like you are the keys to the success, and ultimately the survival, of the intelligent species that dominates the third planet orbiting around a star named Sun.

Your life, Aylan, and the life of your brother is what should have been protected first. As the lives of all the children in the world who, both innocent and curious by nature, embark on the adventure of life. I feel I’m also guilty of your tragedy, perhaps indirectly, but guilty because of my silence and inaction.

I have also failed, Aylan. And I’ll never forgive me.

Dr. Ángel R. López-Sánchez
Astrophysicist and Science Communicator
Friday, 4th September, 2015.

NOTE: It had never impacted me so hard a photography or a story as the final destiny of Aylan. Between the impotence, the complicity of belonging to the “society that allows these things happen”, and my sustained tears for the last couple of days, I could not help myself and write these notes, which are more for me than for my followers (that is why I originally wrote this in Spanish first, but I have felt the need of translating it into English too). Certainly, the fact of having a child with similar age to Aylan’s means that all of this is effecting me more deeply than usual. Putting me in the skin of Aylan’s father, who has not only lost his two small sons but also his wife, destroys my soul. Every few minutes I have to erase from my mind the photos at the beach and put in their place that picture in which Aylan and his older brother (who also died in this tragedy) are laughing together on a couch next to a stuffed animal. Therefore I must act accordingly to try that something like this will never happen again. Unfortunately, behind this terrible catastrophe there are also thousands, millions of other cases that are not made public and do not get the attention of the media. What a feeling of emptiness and selfishness! Is this what awaits us in the coming years? What a simple astrophysicist and science communicator could do about it? Apart from donations and sending letters to insensitive politicians, like many other citizens do, the only action I see, as I said in my letter, is to help in the education of the young people, who will be the citizen and leaders of our next generation. I will be here to do so.

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