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Watch the sky! January 24, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in sense of wonder, space.

One thing I miss in the city is going outside and simply staring at the stars. Light pollution kills all but the brightest stars, which I suppose, is a good way to get back into identifying what’s up there. But I remember when I was a kid and simply staring up and wondering what was out there. This is a chicken or the egg problem–did I read sf because I stared at the funny lights in the sky or did I do that because I read sf? Both, perhaps.

There was a thrill when I first spotted Echo. This was a communications balloon put into orbit. You of a younger generation think I goofed on that–nope, it was a mylar balloon intended to bounce radio signals. When Echo began to deflate and tumble, it would flash on and off like a weird orbiting beacon. The first comet I saw was the Arend-Roland and, other than Hale-Bopp, is probably the best I’ve seen. I didn’t even have a small telescope and it wasn’t needed.

Spotting comets is something of an amateur’s job since the big scopes are used for deep space work. A lot of photos have to be matched and tiny discrepancies noted. This is a job best left to people who have a love of staring outward and wondering if that tiny speck moved just a teeny bit the past couple days. I wonder if the joy of comet hunting might be dashed by hunting for potential planet killer asteroids.

After all, a rock aimed at the earth and a comet swinging around the Sun would look the same far enough out. And cometary collision with the earth could be just as devastating. See Lucifer’s Hammer for a nice description of that.

The excitement and even awe that pictures from the Hubble are greeted tell me we still want to look at the stars. It’s just done secondhand now. And that’s a loss, personal and for society as a whole.



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