Looking upon rings and craters

Nearly every day for the last 20 years, I have visited kottke.org to see what interesting video or article or book or inquiry Jason Kottke has encountered on the web. Jason is interested in astronomy, among many other topics, and he regularly encounters awe-inspiring photos of space, such as the Entire Plane of the Milky Way Captured in a Single Photo.

During my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Vanuatu, I was awed by the brilliance of the Milky Way; Paama Island had zero light pollution, so every night was spectacular, whether a flood of moonlight or the effervescent Milky Way a bright blanket overhead or the red glow of Ambrym’s volcano mesmerizing us as we sat on the black-sand beach.

Friday night, after dinner, we walked down the gravel road to a neighbor’s house. Kumar, the father of Oliver’s friend, is an astronomy enthusiast and telescope collector. He’d texted earlier in the week to thank me for the jar of homemade hot sauce I’d left on his porch, and to invite us to look at the night sky. He was excited to be able to see Saturn, but the planet wasn’t yet clear of the tall trees, so he had a telescope focused on the half moon. Wow, each of us exclaimed as we peered into the eyepiece—the craters along the line of shadow were especially eye-catching.

While we waited for Saturn to move higher in the sky, Kumar pivoted us around to locate Polaris, the North star, and to identify the handle of the Big Dipper. Eventually, Kumar found Saturn in the scope, and I looked in, found the right way to hold my head and focus on my eye, and there was a small circle of light surrounded by a bright ring of light. Amazing.

I once visited the most powerful (at the time) telescope, but didn’t get to see anything because of the weather conditions atop Mauna Kea. That was a memorable experience nonetheless, just as looking up at the moon, the stars, the planets whenever and wherever possible should be. I’m in my place among a vast and beautiful universe.



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