Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Greetings, Earthlings!

 Letters from Josh

Spaceships and Table Saws     8/17/20                                                        Letter 19

  Greetings, Earthlings!  Now, that’s got a good ring to it, doesn’t it?  However, unlike the similar salutation of “My fellow Americans”, it plants several seeds of doubt - doubt of sanity, doubt of planet of origin - doubts which can be leveraged to the benefit of the original bearer of the phrase.  After all, negotiation is often the art of throwing your opponent off balance, and what better way to do so than to have THEM wonder if YOU think you’re an alien.  But I digress…

  I hope you’ve been well!  I have - been out at the telescope a few nights this week, as you may have guessed.  ‘Tis the season for the summer Milky Way.  The Earth, in it’s journey of a year, orbits ‘round ol’ Mister Sol, and presents a slightly different section of the sky each evening.  As such, just as the seasons may be observed to change by watching the foliage and listening for the arrival of the August crickets (singing now, mingling their delightful notes with Bach’s English Suite in A minor), so too may the passage of time be marked in the Heavens.  The Summer sky is a joy to behold - a star-studded event, the Oscars of the celestial sphere, where the party starts late (it doesn’t get truly dark till about 9:30), the music pulses in the night, and a horde of paparazzi mosquitoes drone about the ears.  Our Earth’s orbit places the stargazer looking straight into the hub of our home galaxy, the glittering river of stars pooling into mysterious hazy patches, resolving into billowing clouds of dust, gas, and stars when viewed through a telescope.  And viewing is what I’ve been doing, marveling at these ancient stellar nurseries, the light traveling a “nearby” tens of thousands of years to appear to my wondering eye.   High overhead, the bright rays of Vega in evening-gown blue dance across the zenith of this splendor, and occasionally, an owl hoots deep in the forest.  I sit quietly at my telescope, occasionally referencing a star atlas, changing an eyepiece, in a quiet observation of the Universe.  Last night, I aimed near Vega, in the constellation of Cygnus, the swan, and came face to face with a familiar sight that makes me gasp every time.  A ghostly tendril of gas snaked for light years around an obliging star, as I held on to the telescope as if not to fall into Infinity.  It’s the Veil nebula, a supernova remnant .  In “down to Earth” terms, if you’ll pardon the pun, it’s the guts of a massive star that went BOOM in a violent explosion when the star ran out of fuel.  Interestingly, this type of catastrophic end is the source of life on Earth.  An oversimplified explanation is as follows: Stars fuse hydrogen into heavier and heavier elements - elements we are built from.  But, they don’t do anyone any good if they’re locked in the core of a star.  So, when it explodes, it scatters these seeds of possibility across space, which eventually form into new stars, solar systems, planets, people, cell phones, etc.  So, it’s quite moving to see this ghostly apparition floating in space, eventually to gift it’s elements into something new, far, far in the future.  

  It seems a telescope is almost like a spaceship, and so I moved it back home, stopping at Saturn and Jupiter on the return voyage, marveling at the cosmic hula hoop (Saturn), and cloud details several times the size of Earth on Jupiter.  Then, I gently “landed” back in my front yard, refreshed from my wander among the stars.  With a “click”, I powered down the finder scope, smiled, heard the katydids singing in the trees, and brought the spaceship back into the hangar...err, garage.  What a Universe we live in!

  In other news of an Earthly note - I got a new used table saw yesterday.  (It, too, started out from a supernova remnant a long time ago.)  My stepdad found a great deal online, so drove up with a trailer, and loaded the 400 pound piece of shop machinery on a slick wood ramp in a drizzling rain.  Now THAT was something to make one focus.  (Fortunately, nobody got hurt!)  Don’t you just love a new piece of gear?  I often think that if I put a pegboard in my kitchen and hung up the spatulas like screwdrivers, I might be more inclined to cook...  

  Have a great week over there, and until next time, Earthlings!

  • Josh

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