Perspective

 

I think it was Bitey who talked about what was in the sky lately so I went and had a look. I walk my dog late at night so I see three planets every evening: Mars in the East and Jupiter and Saturn in the South.

This picture is of Jupiter and Saturn. My phone’s camera lightens the sky considerably. What I saw was these planets in a black sky, not a blue one. I love seeing them every night.

Generally speaking, when we look up at the sky and see the stars, we don’t have a sense of which ones are close and which ones are far unless we’re very well-versed in astronomy, which I’m not. What generally fascinates me about astronomy is how crazy the distances are in relation to the size of the objects. When Jonah was in elementary school, I helped him with an astronomy project. We used his therapy ball, I think 27” in diameter, to represent the Sun. Earth was about the size of a marble, the moon a little smaller than a pea, and Earth was about 200’ from the sun. Light takes roughly 1/23 of a second to pass Earth, meaning travel the length of Earth’s diameter. At that speed, it takes light roughly 8 1/2 minutes to get from the Sun to us.

But back to Jupiter and Saturn. Saturn is quite a bit dimmer than Jupiter is, even though Saturn isn’t all that much smaller. It is, however, roughly twice as far from Earth as Jupiter is. That’s the main reason it’s dimmer. So I look at them and because I know that I can visualize the depth, that Saturn is dimmer by virtue of distance. I’ve never really been able to do that with celestial objects before.

I don’t own a telescope. Once, in college, at my college’s observatory during an open house, getting to which entailed clambering over a portion of the roof of a building built in the 1880’s, I looked into a telescope and saw Saturn. And saw the rings. It wasn’t just a picture, it was there, visible, what shows up in the picture above as the white dot on the left.

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