Friday, August 25, 2017

Giving Space a Second Glance

The Morning Show is the blog companion to the podcast audio

  Shoutout to Michael.  He said what a lot of people surely are thinking..."Eh?"  This is regarding the solar eclipse.  If you're among the thousands of rightfully perplexed like Michael, this episode is for you.

 As usual, the media, myself included, has worked itself into a frenzy, but this time, it was about the Great American Eclipse.  And it left some people...underwhelmed.  Which is a bummer, 'cause space is awesome, and leave it to us media types to ruin it.  First off, there's an important distinction to make:  The partial and TOTAL solar eclipse experiences were completely different.  The partial was fascinating, a look at orbits, geometry, symmetry, interesting phenomena, shadows, and getting weird tan lines on your face.  The total eclipse found my emotional solar plexus, and hit it with a 2x4. That's the difference to me.  And unfortunately, the hype was for the total, and not the partial.  So, understandably, if you just saw the partial, you might be feeling a little bit of "HEY, there's no wolf in the sky!" ..."FAKE NEWS!"

It reminds me of a story...I was 12, and my uncle Joe was the tech guy in the family.  eBay had just become popular, and one day in January, a big box showed up at the door.  We all gathered around, and as the cardboard was ripped apart by us little hyenas, we all saw it was...A TELESCOPE!  I almost hyperventilated.  I had wanted one so badly a year prior, but a lousy visit to the optical shop nearly crushed my dreams of astronomy.  The owner was a snob, and didn't understand that an 11 year old doesn't have the budget for a fancy scope.  But here one was, ready to rock, with a colorful picture of the Helix Nebula on the box, in blues and oranges.  The sky was...cloudy.  It's a curse of new optics.

  The first clear night, I hauled the 80mm refractor out into the back yard, under a frigid evening sky, a nearly full-moon looming in the east above the oaks and the neighbor's house.  I couldn't wait to see the splendor of the heavens...those colors in the galaxies and nebulas, those endless starfields, the rings of Saturn...

  I was 12, and didn't realize that you can't see color through a backyard telescope, that the moon washes out faint objects, and that a small telescope is an exercise in exquisite subtlety, not that solar eclipse gut punch.  I was crushed.  I've rarely been so disappointed.  I remember my mom comforting me, and glumly staring at the floor mat in the car as we rode to the grocery store.  Thankfully, I gave it a second chance.  I joined a local astronomy club (and am still a member!)  I learned about how to observe "deep sky" objects on moonless nights.  I saw the rings of Saturn, the moons and bands of Jupiter, and trained my young, and powerful, eye to see ancient light from galaxies far, far away, keeping up with older guys with fancier equipment.  I learned the constellations, the mythology, the quiet of the night. I could "star hop", using a chart to navigate light years from the suburban backyard I called home.  I spent many hours at the eyepiece of the awesome little scope that Uncle Joe had sent the family, drinking in the splendor of the heavens...not the pulsing dance music I first imagined it to be, but a delicate Chopin nocturne.  And, when I thought of it, I realized this dainty tinkling of keys was the echo of a symphony greater than human comprehension, the very birth and death of stars echoing across eternity.  And, at the end of a night of stargazing, or even on an evening when my earthly troubles seems to crowd my head to distraction and I had little time for observing, sprawling out on the lawn and looking into infinity reminds me of my place in the sky, and grounds me with perspective.

  So, if you're feeling "eh" about the eclipse, I totally get it.  The hype can be exhausting.  To cure yourself of these blues, give it a second glance. Find a buddy with a scope, or a local "star party", as they call them.  Go see the rings of Saturn, and the craters on the moon.  Go out to the country, and gaze in wonder at the countless stars sprinkled across the velvet.  But, most important of all, as one of my friends and mentors always says..."Keep looking up."  There's a stillness in the vastness, and a peace in the infinite.  And, start planning for 2024.  I'll be in Texas, watching the next total solar eclipse.  Gotta have that shadow time, man!  I'm hooked!

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