Why I became interested in astronomy

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Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by Ann » Fri Aug 06, 2010 7:09 am

I hope I won't break any rules with this post, but if I do, I ask bystander or someone else in charge to delete it.

I grew up with people with very strong beliefs. When I was eight I was told that many of them waited for the end of the world, which they believed was imminent. My grandfather was one of them. During all his life he never bought any insurances, because he believed that the end of the world would happen during his lifetime, and then neither he himself nor any of his family would benefit from insurances. He moved his family to a small rented apartment and gave away all his spare money to charity.

Being told when you are eight years old that the world is coming to an end any day now is tough. Particularly if you are also told that the only way to be saved is to be as fervently faithful as your relatives and live up to their standards in every way. I felt extremely sinful and inadequate when I compared myself to them. My relatives believed with all their hearts that anyone who didn't share their beliefs would be punished for an eternity, and their conviction seemed so strong that I could almost imagine that their belief in itself was strong enough to rend the earth asunder.

When I was fourteen I saw 2001 - A Space Oddyssey and was literally knocked over by its portrait of a universe that was stronger than the astronauts who had ventured out into it. (Later I read that this movie is about mankind's first encounter with aliens, but I never saw any aliens in it. To me, the movie was about mankind's encounter with a chillingly majestic and overwhelmingly strong universe.)

When I was fifteen, I borrowed a book about astronomy from my local library. In that book I read a sentence that forever changed my way of looking at myself, my relatives and the universe.

It said, All stars are suns.

That night I went out to look at the night sky. There were pinpricks of light up there. I compared those pinpricks with the blinding light of the daytime Sun. If those stars were suns like the Sun, how far away were they? And if they were that far away, then how big was the universe?

I had believed that the faith of my relatives was strong enough to, literally, bring forth the end of the world. I hadn't given much thought to the size of the universe. I certainly knew about our solar system and the other planets, but I didn't have a "feel" for how far away the other planets were. I had seen illustrations of our solar system, where everything seemed quite cosy and nearby. The universe didn't seem to be very big. 2001 - A Space Oddyssey had certainly challenged that notion with its portrait of space, but it was only a movie. The book I read, with that short, dry sentence - All stars are suns - suddenly put me in my own personal bubble of inflation of the universe. It was like realizing how the canopy of the sky suddenly receded and receded and receded until I could feel only vertigo, and still everything just kept receding. It was an Alice in Wonderland experience, and afterwards I could never look at the proportions of the world around me in the same way as before.

And then it hit home that the universe was bigger than my relatives. They had appeared to me to hold sway over life and death and even over the continued existence of the Earth. And when the universe had appeared small to me, there wasn't that much difference between the world and the universe. If the world was coming to an end because my relatives said that it must, then surely the universe would end at the same time. But now I could see that there was no way that the influence of my relatives could reach those pinpricks of light which were as far away as they would have to be to look as faint as they did, even though in reality they were as bright as the Sun.

(Many, many years later I learnt that 99% of the stars we can see with the naked eye are brighter than the Sun, but 95% of the stars in our galaxy are fainter than the Sun. But back then, when I was fifteen, this spread of stellar brightness didn't matter for the "revelation" I had.)

The universe was too big for my relatives to hold sway over it. I could not be sure that they weren't powerful enough to control the Earth. Maybe they could still make the world come to an end through the sheer strength of their faith and willpower. But whether they could or not, there was a larger universe out there that they couldn't touch.

Discovering the vast universe out there set me free from the terror that my relatives had instilled in me when I was a child.

Interestingly, my grandfather also loved the stars. When he still lived in the country, he liked to take my mother out on a dark night and show her the constellations. Later, when he moved his family to a small rented apartment in a city where he waited for the end of the world, he couldn't see many stars in the light-polluted skies, and he lost interest.

I think it is interesting that both my grandfather and myself have seen things in the sky that have comforted us and strenghtened us. My grandfather saw the majesty of the powers he believed in and the solace and reassurance he needed that those powers would save him during the imminent ending of the world. I saw the majesty of a universe that won't come to an end to oblige even the most fervent beliefs of human beings.

Ann
Last edited by Ann on Fri Aug 06, 2010 6:01 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by orin stepanek » Fri Aug 06, 2010 12:36 pm

A beautiful story Ann. 8-)
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by neufer » Fri Aug 06, 2010 7:47 pm

Ann wrote:I think it is interesting that both my grandfather and myself have seen things in the sky that have comforted us and strengthened us. My grandfather saw the majesty of the powers he believed in and the solace and reassurance he needed that those powers would save him during the imminent ending of the world. I saw the majesty of a universe that won't come to an end to oblige even the most fervent beliefs of human beings.
Very nice, Ann, thanks for sharing.

I'd be interested on your view of the Carl Sagan book/movie Contact.
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by Ann » Sat Aug 07, 2010 6:13 am

Thanks, Orin and neufer!
neufer wrote:
I'd be interested on your view of the Carl Sagan book/movie Contact.
Contact? Ummm. I saw it perhaps fifteen years ago or so. I remember that it starred Jodie Foster. As for what else I remember of it...not much. :oops: But I think Jodie's character went on a space trip in her mind, or else she was put in suspended animation while her body travelled to another planet. And I do remember that there were aliens in the movie. Uh... did she meet her father at the end?

Hmmm. "2001- A Space Oddyssey" changed my life, when I saw it as a fourteen-year-old. When I saw "Contact" I was pretty set in my ways and my beliefs. I'm very skeptical of the idea that we can meet ET, for the simple reason that I'm still so overwhelmingly impressed by the size of space. The idea that "they", or we, would be able to travel across the light years until we find each other, particularly in view of the fact that nothing made of matter can travel faster than light, or even as fast as light, and that, in fact, it does not seem very realistic to travel much faster than perhaps one per cent of the speed of light, and even that is going to require truly huge amounts of energy and it will be deadly dangerous to collide with a grain of space sand out there and the spaceship is going to be showered with hard space radiation regularly for years on end... I just don't believe that we are going to make contact with ET, not in my heart.

So could it be possible to make some sort of "contact" through some kind of psychic "mediator" bringing the minds of human and ET together? I'm afraid I can't believe in that, certainly not until it has been convincingly demonstrated that telepathy actually works between humans on the Earth.

All this doesn't mean that I can't enjoy space fantasies. I have been a real fan of Star Trek. But to me these things are fantasies, not something I can truly believe in.

And of course, when ET lands in Times Square and ask people to take him to their leader, I will have to change my mind. In fact, it will be enough that several independent telescopes and amateur astrophotographers actually detect and take pictures of ET's spaceship as he approaches us from space, and then take more pictures of him as he is about to land on the Earth. The fact that a number of pictures are taken by independent telescopes and amateur astrophotographers should testify both to the reality of ET's spaceship and the alien nature of it.

But until I get to see more proof of either ET's or our own ability to make lightyear-long journeys in space, movies like Contact are probably not going to move me very deeply. I much prefer light-hearted space romps like Star Trek, which actually wink at you when Dr. McCoy has his molecules scrambled in the transporter or when Scotty or Sulu lays in warp eight.

Ann

P.S. Neufer, I followed your link to some info about the movie Contact, and I can see that the movie is from 1997. So I can't have seen if fifteen years ago, because if I had I would truly have been psychic!
Last edited by Ann on Sat Aug 07, 2010 6:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by orin stepanek » Sat Aug 07, 2010 11:54 am

I tend to share your feelings about meeting ET; but I secretly wish it were probable. I don't know how much further man can advance in space travel; but he has come a long way. When I was a kid; space travel was still in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers stages. (just a Dream) :lol:
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by neufer » Sat Aug 07, 2010 1:53 pm

Ann wrote:
And of course, when ET lands on Times Square and ask people to take him to their leader, I will have to change my mind. In fact, it will be enough that several independent telescopes and amateur astrophotographers actually detect and take pictures of ET's spaceship as he approaches us from space, and then take more pictures of him as he is about to land on the Earth. The fact that a number of pictures are taken by independent telescopes and amateur astrophotographers should testify both to the reality of ET's spaceship and the alien nature of it.

But until I get to see more proof of either ET's or our own ability to make lightyear-long journeys in space, movies like Contact are probably not going to move me very deeply. I much prefer light-hearted space romps like Star Trek, which actually wink at you when Dr. McCoy has his molecules scrambled in the transporter or when Scotty or Sulu lays in warp eight.
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by BMAONE23 » Sat Aug 07, 2010 4:04 pm

neufer wrote:
Ann wrote:
And of course, when ET lands on Times Square and ask people to take him to their leader, I will have to change my mind. In fact, it will be enough that several independent telescopes and amateur astrophotographers actually detect and take pictures of ET's spaceship as he approaches us from space, and then take more pictures of him as he is about to land on the Earth. The fact that a number of pictures are taken by independent telescopes and amateur astrophotographers should testify both to the reality of ET's spaceship and the alien nature of it.

But until I get to see more proof of either ET's or our own ability to make lightyear-long journeys in space, movies like Contact are probably not going to move me very deeply. I much prefer light-hearted space romps like Star Trek, which actually wink at you when Dr. McCoy has his molecules scrambled in the transporter or when Scotty or Sulu lays in warp eight.
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by Ann » Sat Aug 07, 2010 6:51 pm

neufer wrote:
Ann wrote:
And of course, when ET lands on Times Square and ask people to take him to their leader, I will have to change my mind. In fact, it will be enough that several independent telescopes and amateur astrophotographers actually detect and take pictures of ET's spaceship as he approaches us from space, and then take more pictures of him as he is about to land on the Earth. The fact that a number of pictures are taken by independent telescopes and amateur astrophotographers should testify both to the reality of ET's spaceship and the alien nature of it.

But until I get to see more proof of either ET's or our own ability to make lightyear-long journeys in space, movies like Contact are probably not going to move me very deeply. I much prefer light-hearted space romps like Star Trek, which actually wink at you when Dr. McCoy has his molecules scrambled in the transporter or when Scotty or Sulu lays in warp eight.
Really???? :shock: So I should change my mind, then?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmhAXWz678Q

Yes, looks like it! Apparently these aliens communicate through a combination of music and dance. Wonder which part of this complicated dance sequence means "Take us to your leader"?

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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by Beyond » Sat Aug 07, 2010 7:50 pm

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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by RJN » Sat Aug 07, 2010 8:50 pm

Great story, Ann! Really moving. If anyone else wants to share how they became interested in astronomy please feel free to share, even it turns out not to be as interesting as Ann's story.

About the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. I remember when I was perhaps 7 or so, my mom asked her mother to take my sister and me to a movie one day. My grandmother chose 2001. For some reason, we entered the theater after it had already started. Very soon afterwards my grandmother whispered an apology to us because she could see the movie was not very good. I remember she appeared to be aghast kept whispering to us about how ridiculous the movie was. In retrospect, it must have been a traditional single-movie theater since she surely she would have taken us into another movie if it were a multiplex.

After the movie ended my grandmother apologized again to us for how bad the movie was and said that she didn't think anyone would want to see the beginning of that movie. That's when I told her that I really liked the movie and I wanted to see the beginning part that I missed. I did not understand the ending and maybe watching the beginning would help. She agreed and we stayed, but soon we ended up all bickering because my grandmother was eager to leave and no one could figure out exactly when we came in.

When my mother picked us up my grandmother apologized now to her that the movie turned out not to be any good. My mother tried to console us, admitting that she herself would not like such a movie. When I said again that I liked it, my mother and grandmother dismissed my opinion as childish and laughed. (Who's laughing now, ma?) To this day, my mom still hates "space movies." 2001 is still one of my favorite movies of all time. And after seeing it numerous times now, I still don't understand the ending.

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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by neufer » Sat Aug 07, 2010 9:44 pm

I was 22 and a physics grad at the University of Maryland when I went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey at the spacious Uptown theatre in Washington. I too enjoyed it but didn't understand it. My physics graduate adviser had seen it and was quite upset that the Blue Danube docking scene did not obey true space dynamics (which I also didn't understand). A year later I was a private in the army at White Sands Missile Range watching men land on the moon.
http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19970327/REVIEWS08/401010362/1023 wrote:
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
BY ROGER EBERT / March 27, 1997

<<To describe the first screening [of A Space Odyssey (1968)] as a disaster would be wrong, for many of those who remained until the end knew they had seen one of the greatest films ever made. But not everyone remained. Rock Hudson stalked down the aisle, complaining, “Will someone tell me what the hell this is about?'' There were many other walkouts, and some restlessness at the film's slow pace (Kubrick immediately cut about 17 minutes, including a pod sequence that essentially repeated another one).

The film did not provide the clear narrative and easy entertainment cues the audience expected. The closing sequences, with the astronaut inexplicably finding himself in a bedroom somewhere beyond Jupiter, were baffling. The overnight Hollywood judgment was that Kubrick had become derailed, that in his obsession with effects and set pieces, he had failed to make a movie.

What he had actually done was make a philosophical statement about man's place in the universe, using images as those before him had used words, music or prayer. And he had made it in a way that invited us to contemplate it -- not to experience it vicariously as entertainment, as we might in a good conventional science-fiction film, but to stand outside it as a philosopher might, and think about it.

The film falls into several movements. In the first, prehistoric apes, confronted by a mysterious black monolith, teach themselves that bones can be used as weapons, and thus discover their first tools. I have always felt that the smooth artificial surfaces and right angles of the monolith, which was obviously made by intelligent beings, triggered the realization in an ape brain that intelligence could be used to shape the objects of the world.

The bone is thrown into the air and dissolves into a space shuttle (this has been called the longest flash-forward in the history of the cinema). We meet Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester), en route to a space station and the moon. This section is willfully anti-narrative; there are no breathless dialogue passages to tell us of his mission. Instead, Kubrick shows us the minutiae of the flight: the design of the cabin, the details of in-flight service, the effects of zero gravity.

Then comes the docking sequence, with its waltz, and for a time even the restless in the audience are silenced, I imagine, by the sheer wonder of the visuals. On board, we see familiar brand names, we participate in an enigmatic conference among the scientists of several nations, we see such gimmicks as a videophone and a zero-gravity toilet.

The sequence on the moon (which looks as real as the actual video of the moon landing a year later) is a variation on the film's opening sequence. Man is confronted with a monolith, just as the apes were, and is drawn to a similar conclusion: This must have been made. And as the first monolith led to the discovery of tools, so the second leads to the employment of man's most elaborate tool: the spaceship Discovery, employed by man in partnership with the artificial intelligence of the onboard computer, named HAL 9000.

Life onboard the Discovery is presented as a long, eventless routine of exercise, maintenance checks and chess games with HAL. Only when the astronauts fear that HAL's programming has failed does a level of suspense emerge; their challenge is somehow to get around HAL, which has been programmed to believe, “This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.'' Their efforts lead to one of the great shots in the cinema, as the men attempt to have a private conversation in a space pod, and HAL reads their lips. The way Kubrick edits this scene so that we can discover what HAL is doing is masterful in its restraint: He makes it clear, but doesn't insist on it. He trusts our intelligence.

Later comes the famous “star gate'' sequence, a sound and light journey in which astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) travels through what we might now call a wormhole into another place, or dimension, that is unexplained. At journey's end is the comfortable bedroom suite in which he grows old, eating his meals quietly, napping, living the life (I imagine) of a zoo animal who has been placed in a familiar environment. And then the Star Child.

There is never an explanation of the other race that presumably left the monoliths and provided the star gate and the bedroom. “2001'' lore suggests Kubrick and Clarke tried and failed to create plausible aliens. It is just as well. The alien race exists more effectively in negative space: We react to its invisible presence more strongly than we possibly could to any actual representation.

“2001: A Space Odyssey'' is in many respects a silent film. There are few conversations that could not be handled with title cards. Much of the dialogue exists only to show people talking to one another, without much regard to content (this is true of the conference on the space station). Ironically, the dialogue containing the most feeling comes from HAL, as it pleads for its “life'' and sings “Daisy.''

The film creates its effects essentially out of visuals and music. It is meditative. It does not cater to us, but wants to inspire us, enlarge us. Nearly 30 years after it was made, it has not dated in any important detail, and although special effects have become more versatile in the computer age, Trumbull's work remains completely convincing -- more convincing, perhaps, than more sophisticated effects in later films, because it looks more plausible, more like documentary footage than like elements in a story.

Only a few films are transcendent, and work upon our minds and imaginations like music or prayer or a vast belittling landscape. Most movies are about characters with a goal in mind, who obtain it after difficulties either comic or dramatic. “2001: A Space Odyssey'' is not about a goal but about a quest, a need. It does not hook its effects on specific plot points, nor does it ask us to identify with Dave Bowman or any other character. It says to us: We became men when we learned to think. Our minds have given us the tools to understand where we live and who we are. Now it is time to move on to the next step, to know that we live not on a planet but among the stars, and that we are not flesh but intelligence.>>
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by Beyond » Sat Aug 07, 2010 9:53 pm

RJN said "I still don't understand the ending."
Yeah - all those monoliths bursting forth from Jupiter. Strange indeed.
Before Jupiter gave birth to the monoliths, the movie showed someone going through an undoing of his life and then starting over again, an individual process. After that is when we see all those who started over, going forth from Jupiter and scattering through the Cosmos apparently to teach others how to start over.
The monoliths represented the newness that was beginning to spread. It seems to be a really good way to illustrate a non-understandable concept.
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by swainy » Sat Aug 07, 2010 10:15 pm

My Dad got me a telescope 41 years ago, As well as some universe Books. One of them was a Hubble paperback. I was 5 years old. I remember my dad telling me, "never to look at the Sun, through the telescope". My dad tought me to read, using the Books. It was only a small telescope, But I spent hours and hours looking at the stars, Having no idea what I was looking at. I just liked the fact the telescope made the twinkles bigger. I had a bit of trouble with the speed of light, But my Dad got me past that. Then I had trouble with Blue/Red shift. But The concept of these things are pretty hard for newbies. And was a Wall for me to understand. How my dad understood these things I have no idea, Because he had nobody to show him. But he gave me the incentive to want to learn more, And it has never left me. I watch Endless TV on The Cosmos, And Search The Web. I Am still learning. This, To my dieing day, will never change.

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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by orin stepanek » Sat Aug 07, 2010 10:16 pm

I didn't understand what they were trying to convey at the end either. My wife and I went to 2001 at the drive in. It was the day that the 'Eagle' landed. I love space movies; but my wife doesn't care for them. My favorite is still Forbidden Planet. I think I was 10 when I saw it. 8-)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y4crGU7dkg :wink:
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by neufer » Sat Aug 07, 2010 10:52 pm

orin stepanek wrote:
I didn't understand what they were trying to convey at the end either.
My wife and I went to 2001 at the drive in. It was the day that the 'Eagle' landed.

I love space movies; but my wife doesn't care for them.
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As though his ape's brain could contain the secrets of the Kubrick!

orin stepanek wrote:
My favorite [space movie] is still Forbidden Planet. I think I was 10 when I saw it. 8-)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y4crGU7dkg :wink:
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by THX1138 » Sun Aug 08, 2010 9:47 am

Yes indeed very touching story Ann, moreover I’m certain I like you a lot.
As for space travelers, it would be great if this would happen, let alone in my lifetime but my personal beliefs on the subject are as follows. For starters, truly space is the perfect word for the cosmos, there is lots and lots of space up there, too much even and sadly it seems to me that the fact of the matter is, is that no one and nothing except photons can attain light speed, C is simply not reachable. So any form of life stands little chance of coming to visit us even from any of the nearest stars. I should think that if anything extraterrestrial were to come here it would have to be in the form of machines or robots if you will. The same goes for us, our life span is far to short to travel to any stars but we could certainly send some type of machines to go for us.
Anyway, thank you for your fine story Ann


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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by orin stepanek » Sun Aug 08, 2010 11:50 am

neufer wrote:
As though his ape's brain could contain the secrets of the Kubrick![/color] [/size]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6RzJFwDE_8 :wink:
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by neufer » Sun Aug 08, 2010 12:23 pm

orin stepanek wrote:
neufer wrote:
As though his ape's brain could contain the secrets of the Kubrick!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6RzJFwDE_8 :wink:
That's great, Orin!

I've seen them all and try a little to imitate the inter-referential quality of them.

I truly apologize for the "ape's brain" remark. And I apologize... for not being entirely honest with you. I apologize for not revealing my true feelings. I apologize, sir, for not telling you sooner that you're a degenerate, sadistic old man and you can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again! :wink:
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by orin stepanek » Sun Aug 08, 2010 1:03 pm

neufer wrote:
orin stepanek wrote:
neufer wrote:
As though his ape's brain could contain the secrets of the Kubrick!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6RzJFwDE_8 :wink:
That's great, Orin!

I've seen them all and try a little to imitate the inter-referential quality of them.

I truly apologize for the "ape's brain" remark. And I apologize... for not being entirely honest with you. I apologize for not revealing my true feelings. I apologize, sir, for not telling you sooner that you're a degenerate, sadistic old man and you can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again! :wink:
Ouch! I Didn't know that I ever offended you! :(
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Re: Why I became interested in astronomy

Post by neufer » Sun Aug 08, 2010 1:08 pm

orin stepanek wrote:
neufer wrote:
That's great, Orin!

I've seen them all and try a little to imitate the inter-referential quality of them.

I truly apologize for the "ape's brain" remark. And I apologize... for not being entirely honest with you. I apologize for not revealing my true feelings. I apologize, sir, for not telling you sooner that you're a degenerate, sadistic old man and you can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again! :wink:
Ouch! I Didn't know that I ever offended you! :(
I'm sorry. :oops:
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