We here at MojoFiction own a telescope. It’s nothing fancy, a Celestron “Astromaster 70AZ,” meaning the aperture is 70mm. It’s a refractor telescope (as opposed to using a Newtonian reflector), so you’re not going to see distant galaxies with it or super-sharp detail, but our local solar system easily is in play. We originally bought the telescope for our son, who is always amazed at the universe (he loves Cosmos), but we made him keep the telescope at our house so we could use it when he’s not around because we’re also still amazed by the universe.
Yesterday we read that next Tuesday a lunar eclipse will occur at around 3 a.m. We thought about that last night when we turned out the lights to get some shut-eye. The clear sky allowed a bright streak of moonlight to filter through our living room window and cast a soft, silvery glow on everything. It looked inviting, so we stepped out onto our back deck and looked up at the sky.
The planets in our solar system are named after the Roman gods of old (who bear a lot of resemblance to the Greek gods). We still wonder why we go with those names because those dudes were messed up. Jupiter birthed Minerva out of his head. Who does that? Guys shouldn’t be birthing anyone. We’re just thankful Zeus isn’t a planet… But Jupiter and Mars were on full display last night.
Jupiter, named after the Roman king of the gods, is, according to major scientific journals, humongous. Last night we could see it almost directly above us, a pin-prick of light shining brightly a short distance from the moon, like the two celestial bodies were competing with each other for attention. We set up our telescope on the deck, slipped in a 10mm magnifier, and trained it on Jupiter. Being that it was a smaller telescope, we were not going to get a ton of detail, but once Jupiter came into focus, we could make out a couple of major cloud bands. Jupiter wasn’t alone, though. While many moons orbit the gas giant, three visibly announced their presence: Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede. They formed a straight line, moons and planet.
Due to the rotation of the Earth and the orbit of Jupiter, the planet and its moons quickly drifted out of our viewing sphere and, admittedly, we got tired of retraining. So we moved over to Mars.
Mars, named after the Roman god of war, hovered over the horizon in the east, just above the treetops. Even though Mars is closer than Jupiter, it’s much smaller, so, bringing the planet into focus with our telescope revealed the red-tinged orb, but without as much detail as Jupiter. It is seriously red though. Even when looking with the naked eye you can see a reddish glint. Through the telescope the color pops out at you.
Unless there is no other choice, looking at the world around us through someone else’s eyes is not the way we human beings like to function. Most of us have seen brilliant close-up images of most of the planets in our solar system. On the internet or television we’ve seen pictures from the surface of Mars and solar flares blasting away from the sun. Yet viewing our nearby planetary neighbors in real-time, with our own eyes, after our patch of Earth has turned away from the sun, brings on another dimension. A kind of power that, even with the limitations of the telescope, is unmatched by pixels on a monitor. It reminds you that you’re part of the vast universe around you and not an impartial observer.
Last summer we had our sister and her family over for a brief stay. We broke out the telescope and brought Saturn into focus well enough that we could see the rings. Our brother-in-law is our age and he literally went nuts after viewing the planet (the kids thought it was cool, too). He went nuts because he felt it, too. Not the unfathomable distance, but the raw connection.
Even the moon takes your breath away when viewed up close through the telescope. Mankind has been there already, right? It’s just the moon.
Try telling yourself that when you’re looking at even the smallest craters in sharp detail with your family and friends on a lazy summer evening. We bet you can’t look away. We bet that before the night is over, all you can think about is standing on that rock orbiting our blue planet, looking towards Earth and saying, “That’s right, I’m here.”