Chris McKitterick (mckitterick) wrote,
Chris McKitterick

Oh bountiful skies

The sky is filled with wonders and delights, treasures hidden in plain sight. How often have you walked outside on a clear night and forgotten to look up, then looking up, forgotten to imagine what lies beyond the thin veil of our visual acuity? Remembering to imagine, not taken a moment to immerse yourself? For all of us, too, too often!

Tonight I peered outside from the warmth of the living room out into the cold, up, and felt the sharp pricks of the stars, the bellowing yellow of Jupiter, the endless secrets of stars and galaxies and nebulae glowing in that corner of my memory's eye such that even fatigue from a long day's work and a mild flu could not stop me from hauling my telescope out beneath the dome of night and pointing my much-expanded eye in these treasures' direction.

First I visited Jupiter. Oh, Jupiter! Even to the naked eye you are the fiery beacon of the night! In the eyepiece you are glorious with bands and zones that burst with storms greater than the vastness of the Earth, roiling with swirls and whorls and other unforgotten amazements that will never cease to take my breath away no matter how many times I visit. Attended by your four beacon-squires who dance around you in hours or days, unblinking faux-stars: Oh, how you fill me with such joy!

Click the image to see NASA's Solar System Tour.

Next I swept my great eye across the sky without aim or direction, simply letting myself travel like a nomad among the stars, happening upon bright gold Aldebaran, Taurus' eye, among suns beyond count, tens or hundreds or thousands of light-years distant in space and time from our little Sol. The sensation of space-travel while slowly sliding one's enhanced view across the sky is breath-taking.

Next I pointed almost directly overhead at the first galaxy beyond the Milky Way that I ever visited as a young boy, the huge and nearby Andromeda Galaxy. Drenched in city light, I didn't expect to see much, but 12" of light-gathering power is 1400 times greater than the human eye, and dear Andromeda is so very bright, as is her companion galaxy, that they immediately leaped into view; she even blazed clearly visible in the little finder-scope.

Click the image to see a NASA page about M31.

I wanted to explore further and farther, but the night is cold and I don't feel well. Most important, though, this little sojourn among the stars had been enough to delight me and remind me of the joy and wonders waiting for us just beyond our mundane evenings. It also reminded me that only half an hour beneath the stars is enough to refill a flagging sense-of-wonder bottle. I'll go again, and soon, before the bottle is dry again!

Mostly I write now because I wanted to share this, to urge you to take a moment - it only takes a short time! - to sink into the wonder of the night sky. You do not need a telescope or even a binocular: All you need is your imagination and the space-nomad's love of traveling among the stars.

Tags: astronomy, telescopes

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