This past weekend I did some refresher training to keep my paramedic rating. The training was in Waterloo, but I stayed with my folks down in Cedar Rapids.
Saturday night, after eight hours of classes, my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew took me to the Eastern Iowa Observatory out by Palisades park. The night was overcast and cold, so we thought we'd just be attending a lecture.
The lecture was really cool though, and I learned a few things too. As the speaker was talking about distances between stars and distances from our planet, he would say things like,
"So at the speed of light, that star is only 10 gazillion light years from us, which is remarkably close..."
And my mind was boggling at just how big the universe really is. Looking up into the night sky is literally looking across time. Light from our own sun takes eight minutes to get here, so when we watch the sun set, it actually went below the horizon eight minutes ago. Sirius is the brightest star for our viewing pleasure, and we are seeing light from it almost nine years later! Canopus is the next brightest star, and if it exploded tonight, we wouldn't see it here for 74 years! It's a huge understatement, but there is no other way to say it... Space is BIG!
Nearing the end of the presentation, another volunteer came in and told the speaker that the skies had cleared and the telescopes would be set up for viewing.
This was very exciting, as they have a few pretty sizable scopes! They've got a 16" telescope under an observatory dome, and a 24" scope that was donated by the U of I when they upgraded. Both scopes were trained in on the Orion Nebula, located on the sword of that famous constellation. I went out to get the binoculars Dad had loaned us from the car, and as I was passing the 16" dome, I noticed that there was nobody there to look at it except the guy setting it up. So I wandered over and was able to step right up to the view piece. It was awesome. There was the trapezium, a cluster of four stars surrounded by the glow of the nebula. A line was forming, so I ran for the binocs. Then we lined up for the 24" scope. Thanks to the bitter cold, the line was very short. But the view was spectacular! It defies words really. Even with Dad's 10x50 binocs, I could make out the glow of the nebula and the trapezium. It was a very enjoyable night.Orion Nebula photo by Anthony over at www.adventuresinastrophotography.com
I know there are places on the Internet where I can find instructions for building a telescope. I've looked at them occasionally over the last few years. I think that building one may just be in my future.
Looking at the stars that night, and the many hours I had to think while driving home the next day, helped to put things in perspective again. Life is short. I really don't have time for some of the drama that is going on in my life right now. I'll be glad when I can be done with that stuff and get back to what is really important. My family and friends. Doing things that I enjoy. Learning new things. Everything else is pretty irrelevant!