Apparently I cannot have a beautiful night without sharing about it.
I’d had an exciting day yesterday and was beginning to come down from my high, chewing an the events of the day, breathing deep and trying to ease my way down instead of crash-landing as I am wont to do. A night under the stars would be just the thing. It was forecast to be clear soon after dark, the first clear night in awhile and the only one in sight for at least a few more earth-rotations. I was looking forward to unwinding at the telescope in the company of a friend.
The night sky is incredibly therapeutic. It’s easy to relax in the dark, your sense of touch and hearing heightened (we had a bonus chorus of spring peepers last night), even your vision is heightened in a way. It’s simple bliss to lose yourself in distant galaxies, nebulae, star clusters. Mapping deep space objects and logging them is almost like sitting down to a beautiful jigsaw puzzle. It's nice to just work on something for awhile, let your brain be pleasantly, quietly occupied. If you want to go deeper you can read about each of the objects, learning about them, and to go deeper you just… contemplate. Just stop and consider that the fuzzy, faint star-looking thing in your lens is another galaxy, maybe millions of light years away. Think about that for a minute. Don’t you feel small, insignificant and somehow… special? You can plug away at finding objects and logging them, but if you let what you’re doing really sink in it enhances the experience like nothing else.
I’ve only had just a few nights to get comfortable at the telescope, but already I see a pattern emerging; spend 20-30 minutes just enjoying the sky, unwinding, letting my eyes adjust and letting the day go; digging in and logging some objects, learning some constellations, then stepping back and really… seeing. I set the logbook aside and play with the scope, meandering through the sky to see what I can see for the pure pleasure and wonder of it.
(M57 The Ring Nebula. One of the objects we viewed last night. Granted, it doesn't look quite this spectacular in the scopes we use, but it's still worth a wow.)
So, there's that.
And in my particular case, as I’m viewing at a friend’s place with one of his telescopes, often with other amateur astronomer friends, there's the added bonus of companionship. There's someone to banter with, ask questions of, share geeky star stuff with. Better yet, these have become good friends with whom I am comfortable totally unloading my brain of whatever junk needs unloading and who often help me organize it, make peace with it and pack it back up. And this is totally mutual. Friendship in the most basic and beautiful sense. Human connection. Mahna mahna.
Now, maybe I’m easy to please; just plop me under the stars on a clear night and give me someone to share it with, but I ask you, is there a better way to spend an evening?