Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Shine Bright Like a Diamond - Astronomy Field Trip to Hallum Observatory

A friend of mine is a retired high school science teacher who now in his retirement - has become a lecturer/professor of astronomy at the local University.  He has been passionate about astronomy since he was a boy - so he has about 30 or 40 years of experience in the field!

He invited me out for a viewing recently - and - I must say I was pretty blown away. The spherical dome observatory hosted a powerful telescope that was computer controlled, and featured tracking so that as the earth rotates, the image in the viewfinder stays in place.

I made a note of some of the things I was able to view - but to be certain there were more. I had attempted to "digiscope" some of the things I was viewing with my cell phone, but quickly realized that its a fools errand, and that I would be much better off simply finding images of these subjects to supplement my notes. Please note that I've obtained internet photos of the various things I observed and that these photos are not my own. Photo credits will be provided below.

Messier 13 - M13
Ring Nebula - M57
Markarian's chain
Veil Nebula (east and west)
Jupiter (with sting of four moons in alignment)
Saturn (with three moons visible)
...others!?!? ...

Some things we observed were:
  • Messier 13 - M13

  • Ring Nebula - M57 
  • Veil Nebula (east and west)

  • Jupiter (with sting of four moons in alignment)

  • Saturn (with three moons visible)

I didn't realize this but in Comber ON (30 minutes from Windsor), there are surprisingly dark skies! Looking up, I could see countless stars. Steven pointed out constellations to me, both in the field and in software simulations. We had a discussion about the life cycle of stars, exoplanets, black holes. He explained to me how the moon had become tidally locked with earth's orbit, which is why we only see one side of the moon. We also noticed several (man made) satellites that zoomed through the night sky, at times reflecting the light from sun which was still above the horizon. It was cool to think that its travelling  (falling forward) at17,000 miles per hour which allows it to avoid the pull of earths gravity.

When I looked at Saturn and three of its visible moons last night - I realized that there are very few people in all of human history who had a chance to see the light of Saturn's ring, and its largest moon Titan (with its oceans of liquid methane) to hit the retinas of our eyes.

At one point, one woman who was enjoying the clear night sky with her telescope shared her sighting of Jupiter, with 4 of its moons in a line on one side of the planet. She described the string of moons as "sparkling diamonds in the sky".  A poetic reference for sure - which inspired the title of this posting and also, made me think of a Rhiana song with the same namesake.

To look up at the sky - and wonder - about life, time, space, the sheer vastness of the universe. Even with my basic and trivial knowledge of space and astronomy makes me realize that we are so infinitely small, and short lived in the scope of the universe... that all of our petty arguments, fashion trends, pride, materialism, ego, are all meaningless in the grand scheme of things. The things that really matter in life are physical, mental and spiritual health, friendships, love, family, knowledge, truth, charity, compassion, sustainable living and a quest for relentless and constant improvement.

I think I'm going to try and join the local astronomy club to increase my knowledge in this beautiful field of natural philosophy. As I drove home, I couldn't help but think about the lyrics from a song that crossed my mind regarding the beauty of looking up to the sky:

Repugnant is a Creature who would squander the ability
To lift an eye to heaven, conscious of his fleeting time here
Tool - "Right in Two" lyrics

Good Astronomizing,
Dwayne Murphy

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