agreed with the fool’s lack of hesitation when CFAS agreed to host an impromptu dawn viewing of the planets. The entire rack of them would be up: Mercury (in a tree-top cameo), Venus (with her self-important illumination), Mars (sulky and red), Jupiter (on stage from the first act, and falling to the west), and Saturn (perfectly placed, the little angle). Even the moon was up, well to the west behind a building but full and missed. Did I leave something out? Oh, the Earth. My telescope doesn’t depress that low.
However, at 3:30am this morning, with temps frozen at 30 degrees, suddenly it wasn’t that good an idea.
But the wife made coffee. We’d staged the scope and stuff in the car, so it was out the drive and off to Sanford. Bit of a bad moment when we came into the Seminole State parking lot – nobody was there. Wait, one car. And better, one scope. So we pulled up, unloaded, and set up on steps looking east across the lake. But, yes, at 4:30, I didn’t know if anyone would show up.
Looked at Jupiter and then Mars – the latter too distant to really be worth anyone’s time looking at. Jupiter is my darling but she was kissing a building’s parapet – she’d be gone soon. With that in mind, I lowered my sight and barrel and locked in on Saturn. And gorgeous she was this morning, with her ring canted saucily like a derby in Cabaret.
Then people started showing up.
Students. Families with children. All sorts of folks drawn to our line of scopes by an interest in space. It seemed like every host-scope picked a planet – sounded like a carny midway for a while, with astronomers pitching the merits of their views. Fortunately, this time we brought a step stool for the kiddies so everyone could get a good solid look. And all this, the cold, the early hour, the distance, it all was made right by little kids looking through my eyepiece and marveling at Saturn, seeing the rings and a moon (Titan, I’m guessing) – not in a picture book or CGIed in a movie, but naked-eye live.
JB (the wife) really surprised me. She’s been paying attention to what I do and how I work the scope. So when I had to step away to answer questions, she kept Saturn aligned. She even resighted through the spotter scope, helped the kids up the steps and answered questions. My little Galileo.
Everyone had a great time. Even the ISS made an appearance, rushing through the northern sky, driving east – I don’t think I’d ever seen it before. But visibility was superb, the air was still as pond water, not a cloud in the sky. I think I showed Saturn to a hundred people this morning. And in the end, it was with a sense of sorrow that I noticed the eastern sky was turning light and the event was pretty much closing down.
And the best thing about this public viewing – it was too early for mascara. I won’t have to clean off my eyepiece this time!