Tudor Chiribes, Software Developer on Astronomy

I see astronomy as the perfect stimulus for one’s imagination. Practicing astronomy is a humbling experience, one through which we can truly understand how remarkable nature is. All our technological advancements will always be limited by our interpretation of the space around us and the laws which govern it. Astronomy is the endless pursuit of knowledge and the greatest quest of humankind: understanding the world around us.

My name is Tudor Chiribes and I currently work as a Software Developer for the Irish Government. I have been around computers for as long as I can remember. When I was little, my father was in the army and my mother worked for a small software development company. One of the most vivid memories I have from my childhood is watching a computer compile and launch an application. It truly sparked my imagination – at that moment, it felt like anything was possible.

I was born in a small town called Drobeta-Turnu Severin, and grew up on the riverbank of the Danube with abandoned Roman ruins for a very inspiring (albeit not quite safe) playground. When the time came to leave, I looked for a place with a rich history and culture. This has led me to London first, and from there to Dublin where I decided to advance my chosen field of study at Trinity College.

My interest in astronomy was ignited from a very young age, during one of the first holidays that I spent at my grandparents’ home in the countryside. It was a late summer night and I was admiring how bright the stars were in comparison to how they looked like from within the city. I wanted to understand why that was and began imagining what it would be like if you could explore them in detail. I became the president of the astronomy club in high school. My main responsibility was to show new members how to use the equipment and to provide appropriate guidance to those interested in learning more. With the support of the physics teacher and the school, I was also able to organise a series of events with the purpose of raising interest in science.

I enjoy having astronomy as a hobby, although at one point I also considered pursuing a career in it. One of the best parts of being a software developer is that you can bring together multiple disciplines into one project. Astronomy involves studying objects and phenomena on a grand scale that we do not have any control over. In software development, on the other hand, we are directly responsible for the behaviour of our code. This gives us the freedom to imagine and build new worlds, each with a specific purpose.

I try to look through the telescope as often as the weather permits, which can sometimes be an issue in Dublin. Fortunately, there is never a lack of new content from astronomers. My favourite constellation is the ‘Lyra’ due to its fantastic geometry. At the moment, I have a 305mm reflector telescope and a 150mm Maksutov-Cassegrain as the more portable option. Two upcoming astronomical events that I am looking forward to are the Leonid Meteor Shower on the 17th of November and the return of the 46P/Wirtanen comet which will be closest to Earth on the 16th of December.

For my master’s thesis, I developed an educational video game which draws inspiration from an ancient philosophical concept known as the ‘Harmony of the Spheres’. The main mechanic of the game is an abstraction of the fact that every celestial body was thought to have an associated sound based on its orbital revolution. The protagonist has the ability to jump between different star systems, with the challenge being to identify the underlying chord on which each system is based. All the visual and audio elements are procedurally generated using algorithms that were incredibly fun to write.

When I first started learning astronomy, there was no specific software available to the public. Libraries were the only place where I could hope to find new maps and information to further my understanding. However, scientific journals with new findings took a long time to become available. Nowadays, the transfer of information is achieved at almost the speed of light, and computerised telescopes make it possible for anyone to enjoy the wonders of space. A great starting point for anyone regardless of previous knowledge is Carl Sagan’s book ‘Cosmos’. In addition to this, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) website has a wealth of information for every aspiring stargazer.

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