Saturday, May 26, 2007

Space...What a Wonder!

Space has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Looking up into the sky and imagining what worlds are spinning around each of those stars sometimes literally makes me dizzy. For me, watching the earth ease its shadow across the moon during a lunar eclipse seems to be a moment of intimacy with the cosmos. Several years ago I got my first chance to see Jupiter and three of its largest moons through a telescope, and I literally had tears in my eyes. One scene indelibly burned into my memory is the brilliant full moon on Christmas Eve 1968 as, for the first time, human beings -- Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders -- orbited the moon in Apollo 8. It staggered my imagination to stare up from my backyard and realize that men were actually up there. I had heard them a few moments before on the TV as one of the crew read the opening words of Genesis, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth..."

In recent years, the celestial event that most touched my emotions and imagination was seeing Comet Halle-Bopp as it made its way through our neighborhood in the late 90s. I found an undated account of this in a copy of a letter I wrote (it would have to be from 1997, but exactly when, I don't know), and I'd like to share it with you:

I have been easing deeper and deeper into a serious love affair with the night sky. The other morning Cris, my wife, got in from work about 5:00 a.m. I had just dozed off (I can never sleep when she's closing the store and has late nights) when she came in and told me I had to come see something outside. I got up, groggy and cold, because I dozed without any cover, stumbled out the door with my feet shod only with socks, and they quickly began absorbing cold water from the ground, adding to my chill. She said, "Is that the comet?" There it was! There it was, a fuzzy star looking thing with a clearly visible tail. It was eerie standing there half-asleep, shivering with cold, looking out across millions of miles of space at a ghostly visitor I had never seen before. It was an awesome experience. The next night I began watching for it to see exactly when it would show up over the horizon. During the evening I watched the Big Dipper travel across the sky. I finally dropped off to sleep, but Cris woke me up when she came in. I went out and just stared -- and wondered. We got the older two children up to come see it. After everyone else had gone inside, I just stood there watching my new friend sailing across the cosmos when all of a sudden a spectacular meteor, sparks flying, streaked its way across the sky just above me. What can I say? Wow! What a night!

[Image Credits: (1) Earthrise from Apollo 8 by NASA, (2) Halle-Bopp Comet by Ian Griffin Astronaut Memorial Planetarium & Observatory, Cocoa, Florida, October 5, 1997]


Lee said...

Iused to get up very early in the mornings to go to my job as a baker and Halle Bopp would be there to keep me company every morning. I was so huge in the sky. It was the stuff of science fiction!

I remember one particular Summer I was hitchhiking across the country with a friend. We were both newly out of high school and were being wandering hippie types. Laying in the back of a pickup one night between Taos & Albuquerque we saw hundreds of meteors. What a magical experience. The universe displaying its greatness to us.

Watching the night sky is indeed a wonderful activity. Literally- it's full of wonder. It's just humbling.

Jim Bohannon (aka Maché Artist) said...

When I was in the Marine Corps stationed in Yuma, Arizona, a buddy of mine and I used to drive out into the desert, park on side of the road, and lay on the hood and watch the sky. The stars seemed big as golf balls, since there was no light pollution to interfere. If made me feel like I was really a part of the cosmos.