July 1, 2007 at 3:02 PMI had several big projects due at work in the past couple of weeks, the last due date being Friday June 29. I come home, finally stumbling into summer a week after everybody else, without any particular plans for the weekend.
One of the many emails I have from lists I subscribe to but don't have time to read tells me that Venus and Saturn are "colliding" Saturday night. I remember the telescope that my daughter and I bought at a yard sale last summer for $2. Somewhere in the basement. I take it out and try to set it up in preparation for the collision, but the only collision I'm seeing is the telescope with the top of the tripod. There must be a piece missing. What do you expect from a $2 telescope?
Saturday morning, I took it to a local hardware store and the helpful teenage clerk found a 29-cent screw that enabled me to attach the scope to the tripod. Any charge for his time? No, just one of the privileges of shopping there.
So, at last, Saturday night, I was out there at sunset with the telescope kneeling beside my house (mosquitoes buzzing), looking for Saturn's rings. My neighbor, trying to barbecue dinner on his deck, saw me and asked me what I was doing. No, not trying to get a better look at his grilling technique: looking at the convergence of Venus and Saturn in the western sky.
Venus was bright, like a UFO, and Saturn a small barely-visible companion in the western sky, especially until the sun went down sufficiently. Cheap telescopes wobble a lot. Just turning the focus knob or switching to a higher power objective lens sends the object rocking and rolling beyond recognition, even out of the field of view altogether. My husband comes out, "can you put the children to bed?" "Don't they want to see Venus first?" "No, they're too tired. They're in their pajamas." "How about you, do you want to see Venus and Saturn?"
Saturn is a little tiny orangy fly-speck in the scope, located about 7 o' clock from Venus, which is a bright silvery crescent at the top of the field of view. I think I see the rings on Saturn. It's small, but what else can it be? Why is it underneath, though? Oh, the telescope inverts the image, okay, that's why.
"Yeah, that's Saturn all right, I can definitely see the rings," says my husband, looking through.
My neighbor comes down from his deck, he looks through the scope. "Maybe," he says. He sounds less convinced, but he definitely sees Venus. "Wow, thanks for showing me that. That's quite a telescope for $2." Then he mentions, "I saw your name in the paper playing at the Farmer's Market. What instrument do you play again?"
"Oh, that's right. My son wants to play there too."
I often hear his son playing saxophone in the afternoons, usually just before or after dinner. We exchange email information about the market, and viola/saxophone duet jokes.
Summer's finally here.
Venus and Saturn side by side, shown in Concord MA at spaceweather.com.
My favorite planet to play is "Jupiter". (That would be Holst's "The Planets").
Anyone else terribly disappointed about Pluto's demotion? I remember hearing a scientist on NPR refer to the big controversy as "No Iceball Left Behind".
A really good web site, and a proud use of my tax dollars, is nasa.gov .
Eternity has its limits: to live forever mindlessly is horrid.
No telescope required, and we didn't have to get up at 3 a.m.!
>Anyone else terribly disappointed about Pluto's demotion? I remember hearing a scientist on NPR refer to the big controversy as "No Iceball Left Behind".
Anne, count me and my family in here. It just seems so... wrong! I'm laughing about the NPR comment. : )
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