Josh Barker of the National Space Centre, spatula in hand, promised to unleash his 'inner Delia.' More like Inner Jamie, let loose in a lab - with a dash of St. Trinians thrown in. Starting with a black bin bag and cardboard box, he was soon hurling in metal filings, a jug of Shiraz and vials of chemicals. When he shovelled in frozen CO2, it began to steam like the mad experiments of a Hammer Horror professor. When he heaved in the whole container of dry ice, a 'sublimation' of frozen gases billowed out. Finally with a triumphant gesture, he lifted aloft the newborn 'comet', an icy lump that you could imagine orbiting through the Kuiper Belt.
Meanwhile Prof. John Bridge of the University of Leicester took us right out into space with his animations of comet 67Ps elliptical journey around the solar system to reach perihelion – its closet proximity to the sun. He could even pronounce Churyumov–Gerasimenko without flinching. As a Professor of Planetary Science, involved in the Stardust and Mars missions, he studies cometary samples and opened up the 'bigger picture' of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission for us. We got to see behind-the-scenes snaps of Rosetta's instruments being invented and he scattered in anecdotes and charts like Josh added ingredients. And there was real awe in his voice talking about the 'extraordinary feat' of the ESA landing a space probe on a comet 'at such velocities'.
My contribution was 'a mash-up of ancient myth and modern space adventure.' No dry ice involved. Instead I relied on fantastic Egyptian stories about the sun-god Ra's cyclical journey through our skies and then the underworld Duat. I explored the drama of Philae's own descent into that underworld facing comet 67P's fierce jets of 'dragon-breath' before the victory of its 'reboot' under the sun's influence. I was performing from my new work 'PHILAE'SDESCENT INTO DUAT: An Egyptian Book of Hours for the ESA's Comet-lander.' In the form of a scroll, it features my own illustrations and hieroglyphic symbols and includes some background notes on the mission and the mythology. There are copies still available - £3 each from me at email@example.com.
We were well looked after by our hosts, Leicester'sAstronomical Society, a 'crew of gods' who kept us supplied with votive offerings of juice and biscuits. When all the spells had been chanted and we'd reached our own perihelion, we ended with a Q & A. Here's what our audience said afterwards:
'A stunning alchemy of myth, science and poetic genius!'
'An out of this world adventure.' 'Excellent evening!'
'Exhilarating … one of the more unusual spoken word events in the known universe.'
We also had two great reviews of our event – one by theatre critic SallyJacks for SabotageReviews – and the other by Margaret Penfold of Leicester Writers' Club. Take a look at where the event transported them to. Many thanks to our two thoughtful reviewers and to Carol Leeming for snapping these pics during the evening. Hopefully you may be inspired to dip into the ESA's excellent website to see their stunning photos of the 'Singing Hairy Star' and to follow the next episode of the adventure as Rosetta tails the comet till next September.