Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring Stargazing

We went out stargazing tonight. The spring night was warm, the stars brilliant. The Montgomery Hill Observatory, run by the Evergreen Valley College, is practically in our backyard. We walked up the winding road and gave our eyes time to adjust to the darkness.

Then, one by one, the stars began to bloom and we knew right then that there could not have been a better way to spend the night than looking at the universe.

Just above the western horizon, above the faint glow of the city, was a dim Jupiter. About 30 degrees above it was the dazzling Venus, easily the brightest object in the sky. At the zenith was Mars and as you completed the arc at the eastern sky, I was told that the unassuming star there was Saturn. "I will believe it when I see it," I said. The resident astronomer of the college, Dr. Celso Batalha, could only smile.

But first, Venus. Peering through the telescope, I saw a crescent Venus, a first for me. It was just like the moon, only brighter. Unlike the moon, however, crescent Venus is not visible to the naked eye. She was so bright, though, that I thought I could extend my hand to touch and tickle her. Her laughter would no doubt ripple across the sky if I succeeded.

Children were excitedly running around. Young boys and girls looked longingly at the stars, then at each other. I had eyes only for Saturn, though. And when my turn came to see it through the telescope,  I was overwhelmed into uttering two utterly inadequate words: "My goodness!"

The ring was a fat ribbon around a perfectly spherical shape etched against the dark horizon. There was something so delicate about it that for a moment I thought it would come free off its gravitational bondage and float away like a balloon. When I first saw the Saturn several years ago in wintertime through the same telescope, it was in the western sky and its beauty seemed more set, more mature. But this version was brighter, yet more intimate, more fragile. It was so achingly beautiful that I lingered more than my allotted time at the eyepiece until politely nudged by the fellow behind me.

There were other attractions in the crowded sky: Orion and the Big Dipper and so many more stars and constellations whose names I did not know or wanted to know, for fear that some mystery would go away if I knew their names.

So I went around the hill, taking in as much of the beauty of the night sky as I could with unaided eyes, feeling not insignifcant at all but part of an ineffable whole whose meaning I could only dimly glimpse. The warm and breezy spring air was filled with the fragrance of freshly-cut grass and the chirping of crickets

Just when I thought it was time to leave, a shooting star fell. I waited for more but none came. Still, what a finale, what a memorable night!

No comments: