I have put this post off because trying to describe those stars in words that adequately capture their grandeur escapes me. So here is my best attempt.
If you wear glasses, do you remember that first time you put them on? That whole fine-tuned world that suddenly popped into view? Noticing that trees had distinct, individual leaves? That letters on the page were sharp and clear? When before you had glasses you thought you could already see everything that was there, but you really had no idea what you were missing?
Truly dark skies do that for the stars. With only your naked eye, you see more of them than you ever thought existed. They glisten and sparkle brighter than you thought possible. And the whole sky is full of them, even down to the horizon because there is no glow from neighboring cities and towns to hide them. And when you look up and see all of that, you have to remind yourself to breathe. And you notice you have a tear streaming down your cheek because it's all so overwhelming, this magnificent sky of ours.
|Telescopes like this one were set up for all to experience.|
With most telescopes, you can see detail on Mars and Saturn. But with telescopes like Eric Balcom's you can easily see that Mars has polar ice caps, and as pointed out by young Sam beside me one night, "Of course, they are smaller right now because it is Martian summer." Of course.
|Linda recommends this as the best guide|
for learning about constellations.
|While Linda mentioned the adult version, I am|
starting with H.A. Rey's book for 4th graders!
Thanks in part to all of those light restrictions, as it gets even darker and your night vision ramps up, you notice the myriad satellites that are always in motion across the sky. And you see more shooting stars in one night that you've seen in your whole life. Then Linda tells you how to distinguish a Perseid meteor from others (they always originate in the Perseid constellation - near our royal friends Cassiopeia and Cepheus - and travel away from it) and you see your first brilliant Iridium Flare flash across the sky. And you learn that a solar flare in 1989 "fried" a whole network of communication satellites that still orbit the earth, and when their antennae face the sun just right, a bright flash (the Iridium flare) bursts through the sky. Multiple times each night, with published schedules so you know where to look for them. But you never knew to look.
And you suddenly realize that all the stars and planets practically race across the sky every night from east to west. Because when you look through Eric's telescope at those polar ice caps on Mars at 450X magnification, they disappear out of your eyepiece within a few seconds. Because the earth is moving so fast. And you wonder how you never noticed that before.
And you try to think of how you'll describe this to people so they understand how magical it really was.
And you are reminded of the creation story from the Bible: Genesis 1: 14-18: And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.
And it was good.