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SJ News Online - St. John, KS
  • Looking Up: Universe to be seen, as near as the deck

  • Splendor of the night is revealed every time the clouds roll back and our eyes look up. Dynamics of our solar system, the spread of billions of stars to enticing wisps of galactic haze far beyond our cosmic home - all this and more - is visible from my deck.

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  • Splendor of the night is revealed every time the clouds roll back and our eyes look up. Dynamics of our solar system, the spread of billions of stars to enticing wisps of galactic haze far beyond our cosmic home - all this and more - is visible from my deck.
    Yes, the deck. Where one might have a picnic, gaze upon the garden or wave to a neighbor - from those wooden planks put alongside the house, we transform into an observatory as mighty in our ambition as if we were perched in a great domed research facility breathing the thin transparent air of a remote mountain top.
    Yes, here is our deck - or perhaps you have a porch, a plot of grass, an asphalt driveway or even just a window where you rendezvous with the sky - our station from which we look past silhouettes of trees, the roof lines of our neighborhood, or if you are so fortunate, from an open field - we reach up and away from this home planet Earth. We see worlds beyond, vistas so immense and wonderful, that we stagger to comprehend and think we know it all just because we read a science book, magazine article, perused a web site or saw a documentary on TV.
    We tell ourselves that star is thousands or millions of light years away. Seasoned astronomers, ever gaining knowledge or revising their base of understanding as they probe deeper, build upon centuries of scientific thought and observation. They present the state of our comprehension the best we have it today. Yet they too ponder and consider questions that ever arise the deeper they intrude into the cosmos.
    We can’t even imagine for ourselves the distance of one light year, let alone millions. The distance light travels in one year is hardly more understandable if we break it down into miles. A light year, we have learned, is approximately 5.8 TRILLION miles. Just try and picture a trillion. If you counted a dollar bill every second without stopping, it would take you over 37,000 years to reach a trillion - far longer than civilization has existed. Yet spending a trillion is far easier and quicker - but that’s for someone else’s column.
    The other night was crystal clear and dark as we could expect it with a shopping mall two miles away, but still the expanse of stars inspired a longer than normal look from my deck. The stray cat that ran off from his railing perch doesn’t know how good he has it. With night eyes wider than any human, one can imagine the brightness of stars he could see.
    Deepening twilight painted the western sky from the deck richer shades of orange and violet. Venus stood out like a yellow beacon high in the sky. Far down low was Jupiter, now much fainter. Although so large both Venus and Earth could be its moons, Jupiter is also so very much farther that its light is pale compared to Venus. Binoculars held very steady against the railing showed Jupiter’s four satellites, hanging below the bright dot of the planet, like pearls on a string.
    Page 2 of 2 - Ruddy Mars was seen bright and high in the south, to the left of blue-white Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.  Nearly overhead in the north, the graceful Big Dipper was oriented as if it was leaping in joy, its bowl pointed downward. To the northeast lay bright orange Arcturus; due east came bright Saturn, to the left of the bright white star Spica.
    A deeper look from the deck with the telescope revealed a vista of galaxies, all faint, some with discernible shapes, hinting at their glory no less grand than the great Milky Way from where we reside. A multitude of stars swept up in the telescope, many with color and with an infinite variety of happenstance configurations. Wherever I peered, the beauty of the universe abounded from my great observatory, my wooden deck of home.
    New moon is April 21. Send your notes to news@neagle.com and please mention where you read this column.
    Keep looking up!
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