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Karen Allendoerfer

Venus, Saturn, and Belmont

July 1, 2007 at 3:02 PM

I 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

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on July 1, 2007 at 4:07 PM
LOL! My husband is a big star-watcher too. I remember he woke me up at 3am during our honeymoon trip to see the big moon and got the response me “it was there when I was born, wasn’t it?” I'm interested in anything I can exchange ideas and emotions with, but stars are merely a bunch of rocks in space:)
From Anne Horvath
Posted on July 1, 2007 at 4:25 PM
My favorite planet is Saturn.

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 .

From Ihnsouk Guim
Posted on July 1, 2007 at 11:56 PM
Yixi - Stars are not merely rocks! Just imagine that the light you see left the star millions and millions years ago when none of us was around, no violins or strings, chin/shoulder rests. They will be there when we all are gone, the entire human race. Our daily joys, sorrows, little triumphants or excruciating disappointments all look a bit small compared to that. Makes one think about how temporary our lives are and long for eternal beauty!


From Yixi Zhang
Posted on July 2, 2007 at 2:11 AM
Ahh! How big and eternal things quickly dwarf and humble us! Rocks were there before us and will be there afterwards, but they are still rocks. Gases and lights are all like that. Also anything that has never existed in universe can also be pretty amazing in that it didn’t exist before and probably won’t after us. What made it doesn’t exist? Could it be even greater than human mind can imagine? See, for a silly little person just loves ideas and living things, rocks, gases and lights just don’t do anything for her. Small is beautiful too. It is our violins, strings, chin and shoulder rests, our daily joys and sorrows that are real and fascinating to me.

A good friend of mine just passed away last week due to a heart attach. He was one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met and he left this world way too early. How much I wish he could have lived longer! But then, in a way, great people don’t disappear due to death. The mind and the heart pass on from individual to individual who has been affected. My friend’s whole life is a good example of a life worth living: highly ethical and highly accomplished intellectually and socially. To live like that is a true bless despite being cut short.

Eternity has its limits: to live forever mindlessly is horrid.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 2, 2007 at 5:46 AM
That sounds like fun. You got a lot of enjoyment from your $2 purchase.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 2, 2007 at 11:44 AM
Yixi, When my husband and I were in Germany for our honeymoon, driving somewhere in the evening between castles, there was this amazing lunar From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 2, 2007 at 11:50 AM
Ugh, I keep forgetting the second quotation mark when I put in links. Sorry!

Trying again:

Lunar Eclipse.

No telescope required, and we didn't have to get up at 3 a.m.!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on July 2, 2007 at 1:59 PM
Drat - hate hearing about fun nighttime sky stuff after the fact. Fun to read about it here, tho, and thanks for the link.

>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. : )

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on July 3, 2007 at 4:31 AM
Thanks for sharing the beautiful, uh, rock:)

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