Getting your priorities right

Astronomers tend to be very dedicated to their work, and giving it very high priority in their lives. This is likely true for any branch of science, but sometimes you wonder if we are getting those priorities quite right. Here’s a story from back in the days;

Friedrich Argelander was observing at the observatory of Turku, Finland, on the 4th of September 1827, when a fire broke out and destroyed practically all of the city, including the university. Argelander’s observation log contains the following line:

“Hic observationes terribili illo interceptae sunt incendio, quod totam fere urbeam ad ineres reduxit, observatorium vero, gratiae habeantur Deo O.M., salvum intactumque reliquit.”

Argelanders' observing log on display at Helsinki University. Photo credit: Olli Wilkman.

Argelanders’ observing log on display at Helsinki University. Photo credit: Olli Wilkman.

which roughly translates to:

“Here the observations were interrupted by a terrible fire, which reduced the entire city to ashes. The observatory was, thank God, spared.” A couple of days later the astronomical observations continued as normal. One could argue that most other people would likely have a rather different opinion on what should be considered important during such a disaster.

After the fire the university was moved to Helsinki, where it remains, now called the University of Helsinki.

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