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Write every day no exceptions – Saturn June 5, 2010

Posted by Conventioneering in write every day no exceptions.

I can’t really remember the first time I saw Saturn through my telescope. There’s none of the harsh clarity of a flashbulb memory, not the razor-painful precision of some of my memories of Japan, nor even the pleasantly buoyant, Vaseline-on-the-camera smudginess of many of my CTY memories.

All I can do is conduct a likely scenario based on fragmented pieces of other memories. I can see the image of Saturn as it appears in my cheap telescope in my mind’s eye. I remember, vaguely, getting the telescope. I remember countless evenings of star-watching through it.

I’ll start with the telescope itself. It was a lens model, and it could not have been terribly expensive, as the stand was unstable and the magnification not very high. Indeed, I imagine it’s only about as good as what Galelio himself used, but what was good enough for Galeleio was good enough for me.

Okay, that wasn’t true at all. I wanted to see perfect, crystal-clear images like what I saw in all the science shows I used to watch. I remember that as a very young child in my first house (which means it was before I was even eight years old) I would fight with my mother every Sunday about going to church. I didn’t want to go to church, I wanted to stay home and watch The Magic Schoolbus, because that made more sense to me than all this stuff about people coming back from the dead and water turning into wine and that I should tell people I was a Christian even if it meant they were going to kill me. That last part, especially, made very little sense to me – wouldn’t it be better to lie and live another day? But that’s neither here nor there, and not the subject of this essay. After school, I’d come home and watch Bill Nye the Science Guy, and my favourite class in my second middle school was Mr. Spohn’s Earth Science class, where he’d use Star Trek and the X-Files to help explain scientific phenomena. I remember that he even gave us our first taste of quantum mechanics and string theory in a discussion on the possibility of alternate universes, something which completely captured my imagination.

It’s no surprise then that my parents bought me a telescope. I think I asked for it, along with a microscope. I never got much use out of the latter, and I might not have gotten any use out of the former if my dad hadn’t finally figured out how to focus the damn thing.

Initially, we couldn’t get it to stay straight on anything at all. The best we could do was get a vaguely fuzzy picture of the moon. Eventually, though, my dad got it into his head that he was going to figure out the telescope, and so he figured out how to use the extender tube to get more magnification out of it, and then we were gleefully looking at craters and mountains on the moon, at the line between lunar day and night.

Still, to me, the moon was boring. In fact, I think there’s a whole generation of people who for the most part take the fact that we landed people on the moon for granted, just like there’s several generations of people who take the fact that they can fly for granted. I thought, at the time, that the moon was boring (I have since changed my mind. We’ve been to the damn moon, guys! That’s kind of a big deal). I was far more interested in distant stars, in the possibility of other planets (at a time when we hadn’t even started discovering hot Jupiter objects!), but of course my tiny telescope was too small to see anything of the sort. I settled for pestering my dad to find me planets.

Mars was just a boring little ball, unfortunately. I’m tempted to try again with it, see if maybe I can see something more, and I wish I had a better telescope.

The thing I remember is this. The actual incident may have been far different, but there’s honestly no way for me to know. This is what I remember, innacurate as it is.

I remember my dad excitedly calling me over and telling me to look in the telescope. I did, and I think I then knew why Galileo was so perplexed by the sight – a ball with ears.

Because that’s how Saturn looks in a low-powered telescope. It’s magnificent, to be sure, and mysterious. If you’re used to seeing pretty even looking orbs, a sudden oblong shape is a little disconcerting. I wondered what early astronomers then thought that other stars were – did they realize that those were distant suns, or did they think they were still more distant planets, or other, even stranger objects? What did they think the planets were? Who was the first one who got the wacky idea that these objects were planets much like Earth? And while we hear all kinds of stories about life on Mars and Venus, why didn’t anybody ever talk about the jungles of Jupiter or Saturn?

Man, I had some kind of insightful conclusion here, but I didn’t finish this on the train and now that I’m home I’m like, wow, totally lost my train of thought here.



1. muunkey - June 6, 2010

ummm train…of thought…lost on the train…heh…heh…

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