It was one of those exceptional Seattle summer days that stretches far into the evening. Noah’s sister Abbie and I walked up to Volunteer Park to see some stars. As we entered the park, a couple stopped us excitedly, saying: “There is a guy up there at the donut with a HUGE telescope. You can see Saturn!”
My friend Noah had recently taken an interest in Astronomy. A few weeks before he had called the UW Astronomy department for a recommendation of a good telescope to buy to get the best views. Well, the nice scientists at UW ended up giving Noah an expensive, high resolution, 120 pound telescope for FREE!! It has a broken tracking motor so they can’t use it for classes, but it works well enough for stargazing. They were actually happy to get this beast off their hands, and obviously Noah was thrilled to acquire such a thing. Ahh, sweet serendipity. One person’s trash is always another person’s treasure.
On clear nights he sets up the scope next to Black Hole Sun overlooking the reservoir at Volunteer Park. He knew that Saturn was returning into view the Friday night we joined him, still in the dog days of summer. Through the eyepiece, we could see Saturn, an almost full moon, and later some people out on the observation deck of the Space Needle.
Saturn is between 84 and 68 light-minutes from Earth, depending on where each planet is in their orbits. When you gaze at something in the sky that really existed roughly an hour ago, your mind starts spinning. I know we’ve all had that summer camp star gazing experience when you start to realize how small you relative to what is out there. Saturn really does have that icy, debris filled ring, just as shown in my Sixth grade text book! The moon really has those mammoth looking craters and a deep grayish- blue hue that makes you shiver.
The telescope attracts people who cannot help but stop and take a peek at our vast universe. One night Noah had upwards of 75 people stop by and look. To me, it is beautiful that perfect strangers can get excited together about seeing something that is 100 million light years away. I love how the telescope has spawned spontaneous community.