Last night, braving the hordes of mosquitos that had somehow located the narrow opening in the domed ceiling, I looked through a telescope for the first time. Given, it was for five points extra credit, but I don’t talk about that; I probably would have gone anyway.
The observatory is a dim, round room that looks like something out of Harry Potter. A spiral staircase leads up to a small platform dominated by the telescope itself. While the prof and a physics TA found the coordinates for each star and positioned the telescope accordingly, we lined up on the staircase, slapping at our legs intermittently.
When it was my turn to look, I crossed the platform, climbed the small ladder by the telescope, and stood on my tiptoes to peer into the tiny hole of light in the lens. And there was Saturn, looking like every picture I’ve ever seen of it; a round ball perfectly encircled by a wide band. It was completely gold, like someone had made a Saturn cutout and pasted it against black paper.
“Is this real?” asked the kid in line behind me, upon seeing Saturn for himself. We all laughed, but his silly question was surely a sentiment shared by all of us.
We’ve looked up at the sky for our entire lives, staring at the moon and the stars and the occasional planet or satellite. But to us, they’re stationary pinpricks attached to a velvety universe. There’s nothing that appears so peaceful, so utterly unchanging, as outer space. And yet, looking through that telescope at nebulas and clusters and planets and the Moon, I finally grasped how very tumultuous, how alive outer space is. Things are in motion up there. Bodies collide, bodies explode, bodies are created and shaped.
And we’re such a very tiny part of it all.