Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 16 - Extreme

LAST TIME : 44) Modest Tchaikovsky (1850-1916) and his famous composing brother 45) Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) are linked by marriage to 46) Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) and 47) Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). All four featured prominently in the opening or closing ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, despite the Russian government’s anti-gay views over which many called for a boycott, but one man who protested by going to Russia was 48) Keith Tomlinson (b.1980).
Rather than join a boycott 48) Keith Tomlinson decided that the best way he could highlight the homophobia in Russia was to raise funds for the lgbt charity Stonewall, and the way he chose to do it was to climb the highest mountain in Europe, Mount Elbrus in Russia, just 148 miles from Sochi.

In August last year Keith reached the summit of Elbrus and unfurled a Rainbow Pride flag. This isn’t the first time a rainbow has flown from the summit. In 2013 I write a series of articles about 49) Cason Crane (b.1992), another young gay mountaineer who climbed Elbrus for his Rainbow Summit project.

Being the highest mountain in Europe makes Mount Elbrus a popular challenge for mountaineers. As such it belongs to a specific challenge called the Seven Summits in which the aim is to climb the highest mountain of each continent (Elbrus in Europe, Everest in Asia, Kilimanjaro in Africa, McKinley-Denali in North America, Aconcagua in South America, Vinson Massif in Antarctica, and either Carstenz or Kosciuszko in Australasia).

Quite often the first continental summit attempted is the shortest, Kilimanjaro. Cason completed his climb at the age of 15, and Keith completed his climb in 2011. The experience was so inspiring that Keith came out as gay 2 days later. Although mountaineering has taken a back seat Keith Tomlinson still continues to raise money for lgbt charities by running marathons. Even if he doesn’t complete the Seven Summits challenge he may still get the chance to complete an equivalent challenge, to run a marathon on each continent, even in Antarctica.

Many marathon runners, both professional and amateur, take up the continental marathon challenge. One person to have completed it is 50) Todd J. Henry, Professor of Astronomy at Georgia State University. We’ve encountered Professor Henry before in an article I wrote in March in my “StarGayzing” series. Todd has been running marathons since 1980 and took part in the very first Antarctic marathon in 1995. He came second. Since then he has run over 40 marathons and reached the seven-continental target in 2008.

Todd Henry’s main work in astronomy has been in the study of Earth’s nearest stars. In 1994 he founded RECONS, the Research Consortium On Nearby Stars, of which he is still the Director. Since then he has become one of the leading educators into our immediate interstellar neighbourhood, working with NASA on their own Nearby Stars Project.

On earning his PhD Todd Henry was appointed a postdoctoral fellow with the SETI Project at the Phoenix Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. SETI is the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. That’s not looking for bug-eyed monster or Martians but the examination of radio emissions could indicate that they are not naturally created, or even looking for evidence that organic molecules exist in space which could form life. There are several scientific research programmes into SETI, of which the project Todd Henry worked on is just one. Another is the SETI League.

The idea that life exists on other worlds isn’t new. As I mentioned several years ago a 2nd century writer called Lucian wrote about a fantastical voyage to the Moon and the strange life that lived there (including something that sounds very much like a kangaroo).

The birth of modern science in the 16th century saw new techniques applied to the study of astronomy. The idea of life existing on other possible worlds gained renewed speculation. One scientist in particular is remembered for his theory about extra-terrestrial life – for the wrong reasons.

The SETI League created an annual prize named after this 16th century scientist, awarded to scientists who make a significant contribution to SETI. They hail him as a hero of science against religion, even though his only contribution to SETI was his belief that if life exists on other worlds then God sent Christ to minister to each and every one of them. We all know how preposterous the multiplicity of one person is, and so did the Church, so they labelled him a heretic even though they accepted his scientific theories. But some scientists today use this to distort historical fact for their own anti-religion agenda and claim he was declared a heretic because of his science. He wasn’t.

The award the SETI League created in his memory is called a Bruno, and the scientist himself, the subject of an article I wrote in January, was 51) Giordano Bruno (1548-1600).

Next time we see how Bruno links to splatter movies through Shakespeare.

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