Three years ago, I sold my buttercup-coloured Fender P-Bass guitar to some music store in White Rock, and I bought a telescope with the money. The man at the Vancouver Telescope Centre who sold me the scope told me that I was the third seminary student that year who had bought a scope there (although I wasn’t in seminary at the time, I was planning on going and I can’t remember how we got on the subject). While I do miss the guitar at times, especially when I roam the halls of the manor slapping out lines on the air bass, I don’t regret the move. And yes, playing the air bass can be some serious business. A few years back I remember hearing of a guy on eBay who was selling an air guitar he had played at a Bon Jovi concert. I think it even came with a case.
In the time since, I’ve bought a number of neat books on astronomy and begun educating myself, although more with an eye to the practical than to the theoretical. That is, I can point out a number of major stars in the sky, but I can’t really tell you why they burn. My two favourite books are Touring the Universe Through Binoculars, by Philip Harrington, and the Norton’s 2000.0 Star Atlas, by Ian Ridpath. There are a number of iPhone and iPad apps that I have as well, some notable ones being Stellarium, Astronomy Picture of the Day, and Planets. I’ve tried memorizing maps of the constellations, forgotten them, re-memorized them, and now I’m at a low point again. This is largely because my telescope viewing happens in phases. I’ll use it a bunch, and then it sits dormant for a few months. Actually, last night was the first time since we’ve moved to Hamilton that I’ve used the scope.
My telescope is a Sky-Watcher 8″ dobsonian reflector, and here she is on a moody night, looking pretty and gazing wistfully at the moon:
And this is what she saw:
Now that’s a waning gibbous moon, and that was an unexpectedly difficult photo to take. I thought it would be as simple as holding up the iPad to the eyepiece, but it wasn’t. My knowledge of optics is worse than slim, but my guess was that the problem had to do with the curvature of the eyepiece and the curvature of the iPad camera. It seemed that no matter how I moved the iPad, or how I twisted and turned it, the image kept slipping away. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and basically got lucky with this shot. In reality, it’s far more beautiful than that yet. The moon in the eyepiece is very bright, and the crisp outlines of the craters and mountains and the shadows on the surface are an almost unbelievable sight. On the day I first got the scope, when I plunked it outside on the balcony of our apartment in Abbotsford and pointed it at the moon, Arenda and I could hardly believe what we saw. We just stared and stared.
There are passages I love to think about when I’m out viewing, and particularly from the KJV. Here is one of them:
“Canst thou bind the sweet influence of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?
“Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?
(Job 38: 31-32)
In a few days the comet PANSTARRS is going to be appearing in the evening sky shortly after sunset. I’ve heard that it’s supposed to be visible to the naked eye, as long as you’re away from city lights. I did get to see a comet once, shortly after I bought the telescope, and although it was only a faint green smudge in the eyepiece, I watched that smudge for half an hour. First of all, I was pretty proud of myself for finding it at all, and secondly, I just couldn’t get over that I was staring at a chunk of ice, rock, and stardust hurtling through outer space toward the sun. So I do look forward to this one, as I’ll be able to see far more detail this time.