by, 03-22-2012 at 08:18 AM (734 Views)
I don't know if anyone has noticed this or not, but right now it's a great time for taking a look at the planets. Well, in UK it is anyway
So, at the moment, just after sunset the planets Venus, Jupiter and Mars are all visible. Venus in particular is astonishingly bright and fairly high in the night sky. Being as I'm rather keen on all things you have to crane your neck to see (including tall buildings, giraffes and, of course, clouds) a number of years ago we purchased a telescope and it's been languishing, unused, in the garage for some time. So we dusted it off and dug it out and a couple of weeks ago we took a look at Mars. It's the first time we've had the 'scope out since the kids have been around (yes, that long!) and they were both interested in taking a look. So there's not a lot to see (my telescope isn't that powerful) but there it was, a smallish salmony coloured disc with a teeny tiny almost imperceptible dot to the right which was one of its moons. My daughter was amazed (that's amazing - she said) and my son interested but perhaps not as much interested as he was right then with Skyrim. Sigh.
Then last night it was good and clear and we dragged the telescope out to the front of the house which is where Jupiter and Venus are visible from (Mars is in the east, Jupiter and Venus in the west). And we tuned up the scope and took a look at the lovelyamazingunbelievablybeautiful thing that is Jupiter. And you could see the small disc of the planet and distinguish some differences in the colouring of the atmospheric bands and two to the right and two to the left, Jupiter's moons. And it is amazing. So I showed the kids and my son took a look and said 'wow' and went back to Zelda, and my daughter said 'it's only a planet' and I began to wonder if my kids have inherited any of my genes at all.
Because I remember, I remember when I was small and my Dad pointed out to me the Plough and later the constellation Orion. And I remember walking through the dark streets with my parents, looking up, and wondering about the stars, not knowing, really, anything. And I remember waking up at nights and sneaking under the curtains and pressing my nose against the glass and looking out at their bright, familiar presence, and thinking how beautiful they are. And I remember the first time we looked at a planet through the telescope, Saturn, and seeing its rings and it's pure, true, realness and thinking 'oh my goodness, there it is, a real, true other world, it really exists' because up until that point it had only really existed as a picture, something to be seen on TV or in a book or magazine but there I was looking at it with my own eye and it was really there, not a projection, and beautiful. And it really meant something to me. I can't really explain why. But maybe for kids now the stars just aren't that exciting. I don't know. They're still wonderous to me.
And it's one of the things I love about camping. Because living in a reasonably populated area you don't really realise the extent of the light pollution, but get out there in the wilderness, by a lake or in the hills, and as soon as it goes dark the entire universe is revealed to you. And you can see the Milky Way (and it's not a chocolate bar after all) and the density of stars is so great the constellations disappear. And it makes me think about my ancestors, earlier people, not even too far in the past before the advent of streetlights, and how they must have had that vision every night and how it must have been wonderous and terrifying at the same time. All that light.
And how, when the universe was smaller, just born, the light from the night stars might have been a bright as day. Think about it. And look up, maybe. You might be surprised what you see.