Sunday, April 15, 2012

stargazing party

Beyond identifying Orion and occasionally a Dipper, my stargazing experience and expertise is really minimal. I did get one of those telescopes that seem ubiquitous every five or ten years as the fad passes. They are really not well made, despite being about a hundred dollars, and only an expert could "find stuff" with them. At least one of the lenses had visible dark specs within, but mostly it was frustrating because there weren't very good instructions that came with it other than, "Locate an object with the attached viewfinder, then look through the main instrument and turn the focus knob...". Yes, well, it didn't work for me. And now, twenty years after Jody Foster made "Contact", I still don't believe in aliens. But I do still enjoy looking out into space. Recently I got to view Saturn through a well-aimed, large-barrel telescope. It was still really small. And that is not something you want to tell a man who is proud of himself: "Hmmmmm, I thought it would look bigger...." It is a testament to just how far away things in space are, that looking through optics that would be impressive in viewing wildlife, for example, I could barely discern rings that told me this was not, in fact, Jupiter.
I remember watching a meteor shower and being very impressed at the frequency and duration of these shooting stars. Once I swear I saw a meteor really close - as in flaming through the atmosphere - rocket over 34th Street and Archer Road, but no one else claimed to see it, nor was written up in the paper, so I wonder if I imagined it or dreamed it. Still, my weirdest stargazing experience was while I was in college. I attended a party given by my chemistry professor. I caught a ride with one of his graduate students. I saw the Pleiades. The grad student drove a VW Sirocco and told me about stealing butyric acid from the chem lab in order to make the Tolbert Area Mudfest mudpit stink like sewage back when he was in undergrad. Looking back, I wonder at my boldness. I did everything 'they' tell you NOT to do. I socialized with someone much older, who was in a position of power in that he determined my grade. I got a ride from someone I didn't really know. In his really old car. Far away to an address I was so unaware of then, that even now I couldn't begin to tell you where it was in this town I now know so well. I think I even drank a beer and was underage. I did go with a girlfriend, but still, it was a party, way out of town, dark enough that there was little interference from city lights for the star gazing. Someone had set up a telescope and it was a crystal clear cold night. And I got to see the Pleiades!