Gotta come up with a blog to go with this cool picture.


We went to a stargazing festival of some kind. There was hot chocolate, and the macho men had brignt green lasers to use as pointers. Aimed at infinity, they would seem to illuminate every dust particle. Like an infinite light saber, you could imagine it illuminating, rather than pointing out, a star.

The biggest telescope was 8' long, had a custom homemade wooden base to hold it's heavy base mirror. Varnished to a creamy yellow, it screamed of pride and retro-tech. (length to width ratio approximates a familiar object nicley: Freud, anyone?) There were a dozen such telescopes, aimed into the unknown with icy distain. Kids wandered with hot chocolate. Cheerful conversation. Braggadocio when two telescope people talked, simplistic paternal enumeration of the constellations when one spoke to a civilian at the head of his little line. Ask the right question and you might get to see the laser in operation!

Then the moment of truth. Patiently waiting, hearing four times over that "it's actually a triple star, very rare," I reach the front of the line and peer into the little tube. Hard at first to hold my eye still, & waiting for the lissajous figures to hold still after I bumped it. There they are! Dots. Just two. But I know, 'cause I've heard the patter 4x: "the last one's at 2:00 o'clock from the upper one, very close, and very dim." Ok! there it is! Three dots. Ok, who's next?

That's the trouble with skygazing, for me. Still just dots.

We saw a globular cluster (bunch a dots so far and close together they were blurry) and a comet (same blur, different object, this one 2 miles wide and hurtling straight at us, or was it a smudge.)

I actually had one very cool astronomical observance, For two weeks, comet something or other (Not Kouhoutek, that one always disappointed, maybe it was Hale-Bopp?) approached Virginia at Christmas time. Do you remember it? Just a smudge, really, 2" long between your fingers, it was so much less light than everything else manmade, it was hard to get excited. But it was there every night, and if you were in a dark place, it really was something. It gave off an aura of motion and speed somehow, though it held perfectly slow, it's motion against the starfield had to be measured overnight. You got the feeling this strange alien was implacable, enormous. And alien is a bad choice: there was no sense of aliveness. This was the clockwork of the galaxy, on display, operating wtihout transistors or unleaded gasoline. It would come by again, later, when all we protoplasm are reduced to the next cold sticky layer of black oil buried deep somewhere and the earth's a frozen rock. It wouldn't notice us, then ...or now.

There was a sense of wonder.

I often wanted a telescope. It was a cool instrument. But even then, as a kid, I realized that after saturn, and the orion nebula, what you had up there was mostly just dots. A sophomoric view but I hold it still