Monday, January 30, 2012

Stalking Saturn

Saturn's Majesty, in the Infrared

Saturn and those fabulous rings. Rings that make a scientific and aesthetic statement. Rings that capture our imagination and challenge our notion of what is possible. Remember making the model of our Solar System in elementary school? Did you agonize over what to use for Saturn’s rings? Fuzzy pipe cleaners? A slice of Styrofoam? (a definite carving disaster) Should there be glitter?

But while the model was interesting, Saturn and a host of other planets and stars are up there in the sky, visible and accessible. Ever had a wonder-moment of stargazing – when someone points out Polaris, the Big Dipper, and if you’re lucky, Saturn? Except 5 minutes later, the sky returns to dots. Just dots. Nothing looks like a dipper. But everything looks like a dot.

That is my dilemma: a deep interest in astronomy, yet a lack of navigational skills. The stories about the stars and planets, however, kept my interest alive. The mythic Olympian crowd and their in-fighting, the all-knowing Zodiac (“You’re especially intuitive today… and feeling very optimistic”) and the brilliant, awe-inspiring scientific discoveries.  I’ve existed on their stories alone until very recently.

This is what happened:
One evening last week, I saw a group of our neighbors gathered on the street: necks craned, phones pointed at the sky. Ambling aimlessly (zombie-like would be accurate, but I’ll refrain from using the z-word because I like my neighbors).  Turns out, far from being undead, they were using an app that brings information about the celestial bodies to you: interpreting the heavens, literally from where you stand. Want to see Saturn? Jupiter? The trajectory of the Sun and where it will set? (Think of the photo opportunities here…knowing exactly where the sunset will be. No more last-minute dashes around trees or rocks to capture the perfect sunset). The immediacy of information is incredible and powerful.

So I joined my neighbors in the street, tracking Saturn, the moon, and finding Polaris. I don’t know why it is so wonderful knowing which celestial body is which. It just is. To be able, at last, to smile up into the night sky and say good evening to Saturn: it’s wonderful. To stalk Saturn across the heavens: exhilarating. Now the stories and the physical nature of the cosmos can coexist in my reality.

That’s the beauty of learning something new. Everything else adjusts to let the new knowledge in, and once the dust settles, you find your brain ticking just a little bit faster- checking for parallels, bridges to new ideas, inconsistencies and applications.

(a few titles  -available at the Chandramohan Library- to whet your appetite for celestial information:

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. –Mike Brown (call number: 523.492 BRO).
Powers of Ten: About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe. –Philip Morrison and Phylis Morrison, and  the Office of Charles and Ray Eames. (call number: 523.1 MOR).
Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love. –Dava Dobel. (call number: 520.92 SOB).
A Walk Through the Heavens: A Guide to Stars and Constellations and Their Legends. – Milton D. Heifetz and Wil Tirion (call number: 523.8 HEI).
Moonscapes: A Celebration of Lunar Astronomy, Magic, Legend and Lore. –Rosemary Ellen Guiley. (call number: 523.3 GUI).
Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution. –Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith (call number: 523.1 TYS).)

-Mrs. Eldridge

1 comment:

  1. Hah! I was doing just that tonight, walking around the yard with my phone, tracking planets and constellations. It is exciting to really "see" more of the world around us--and feel connected to the stargazers who came before us and named the wonders we can still see.