ne nice thing about astronomy – like fishing, it gives you time to think.
In retrospect (not retrograde, which is something different), it is remarkable that I hooked into this hobby. Yes, I read a lot of scifi and have always liked the mechanics of our solar system. Even wrote an excel game that involves our solar system in 2075 and a hapless ship captain who has to risk hundreds of dangers to succeed (you can download the full game and manual for free HERE – not for the faint of heart nor the easily frustrated). It uses a neat system of grid movement that simulated solar orbits, planet orbits, and space ship velocity and physics, all at the armchair level). And really, my interest goes back to laying on the driveway with my dad’s old navy binoculars, looking up at the moon. So, yeah, I was a bit of a planet-head all through my life.
But the fact that I have an Orion telescope and an ongoing interest was a chancy affair.
With fifteen years under my belt at FedEx, I was given a choice of gifts to order for myself (yay me!). Cuff links? No. Cheap watch? No. Nothing. Nothing. And then I saw the tiny 12x telescope on its little tripod. Impractical (I know now) for just about everything. But still it caught my interest. So why not?
The night after receiving it, I went out onto the back porch with it to “see things”. How remarkable (I realize now) that the skies were crystal clear, the air cool (Goldilocks, even) and no bugs. And there was the moon, only just rising clear of the trees, three-quarters full, magnificent in presentation. It couldn’t have been any better if it came in a velvet-backed mahogany case. I sat my little junior scope on the deck table, sat behind it and marveled. I mean, you could see everything. I had no idea which seas and mountains I was looking at, or even what the seas really were. It was just neat to look at.
An hour or so later, it had risen too high for the tiny tripod. In the grips of curiosity I noticed a star directly overhead, one that did not shimmer. I figured it was probably Jupiter (a glance at the computer showed this to be correct). I didn’t get a good look at it (lying on my back, trying to hold the scope steady) but I saw enough to intrigue me.
But now, a couple of years later, I realize how amazing these circumstances were. The fact that the moon was right there, in the small angle of arc that scope could manage, that the night was clear and perfect for seeing, that there weren’t clouds or haze or anything, this was extraordinarily coincidental, even serendipitous. That there was an astronomy club event a mile from my house the next weekend got me in touch with that organization and gave me a chance to look through real scopes and ask about them. That I’d gotten involved with this in the late summer meant all of the winter viewing was before me. With my new Orion 520 ST (I love this scope!), I could now sit and look at Jupiter for hours. And Orion, the first time I saw the nebula I actually trembled – there it was, 1300 light years away, this huge cloud of gas. Even my first Saturn hit where I researched where it would be at 4am, set up the tripod the night before and carried out the scope in the cold pre-dawn morning and there it was, right where predicted, rings and all, was fantastical.
It’s been a tough summer for us stargazers. We’ve had clouds and haze and nothing all summer (with the exception of the Perseid shower and that achingly-clear night we had when the sky came crashing down). In fact, really, I’d been so removed from the skies over the last few months that I started keeping tabs on Lady Moon, figuring when there would be a night where she’d be up early, she’d be waxing or waning, and I’d be clear of obligations of model trains, phone-friends-nights, movie nights, or just collapse-in-an-exhausted-heap nights. And last night was it. Riding back from dinner with the wife on our tandem, I tossed a look over my shoulder and noted the clear skies, the rising moon, the open evening, everything coming into conjunction. When we got home I went out back, eye-balled it to figure the best viewing spot then carried out the tripod to align and level it. Yeah, turned out to be a great night for looking at things. You can read about it HERE.
And as I studied the Coathanger cluster, I reflected on the strange and unlikely path through brought me to this point.