Tag Archive 'the night sky'

Sep 23 2009

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Greater Nature

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Judy and I were returning home from a late dinner out the other day when we looked up and saw the Milky Way splayed across the sky.  No moon, not even the wisp of a cloud anywhere, and the sun was long gone.  Thousands of stars glittered overhead.  Judy suggested that I pull out my telescope for a quick look.  I noticed that there were no bugs out and the air temperature was nearly ideal, so I did just that.

I pointed the instrument at the brightest object in the southeastern sky, thinking it could be Jupiter.  Sure enough, it was.  Once I centered that planet and its four biggest moons in the eyepiece, Judy took a look.  I told her that she was seeing what Galileo saw with his telescope four hundred years ago: another planet and its satellites – the first hard evidence that the Earth isn’t the center of the universe.  I think she was impressed, not so much by my words but by the image itself.  Yeah, when it comes to astronomy, seeing really is believing.

Judy has encouraged my stargazing over the years but hasn’t taken much interest in it herself.  Quickly sweeping through the sky, I looked for nebulae, recalling how impressive they looked to me when I first saw them.  I wanted to wow my wife.  I had no star map in hand, though, so I gave up that hunt before Judy lost all interest.  I went looking for Andromeda Galaxy, instead.  The Great Square was in clear view directly overhead, so finding Andromeda wasn’t too hard.  All I had to do was follow a familiar path away from the Square with my binoculars.

When finally I got Andromeda Galaxy in sight, I showed it to Judy.  She saw only a fuzzy spot in the eyepiece.  I told her that was all she was going to see with my humble instrument, then reminded her that she was looking at an object two and a half million light years away.  Numbers like that are difficult for anyone to grasp, though, so I expounded:  When the light now reaching her eye left Andromeda, our ancestors were just starting to use stone tools.  But even that was a gross understatement.  Spacetime defies all description, really.  All we can do is approximate it.

Nature is all around us all the time – no farther away than the blades of grass underfoot, the bee buzzing past, or the breeze caressing our brows.  We have come to know it well through our senses, and nearly everyone knows intuitively the difference between what is natural and what is man-made.  But there’s a greater nature out there that requires our reasoning skills as well as our senses to understand, where the boundary between the concrete and the abstract is blurred, where cosmic forces are hard at work and objects are much, much farther away than they appear.  I for one can’t gaze deep into the night sky without thinking about God, about nature with a capital “N.”  Someday I will wander aimlessly through that wilderness as I do the woods.  Someday I will wander and wonder without physical restriction.  Someday.

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