When I moved into my house twenty-one years ago, I made cafe-style curtains for the five windows in my bedroom, which is in the back of the house. I wanted to be able to wake up and see the sky as soon as I opened my eyes. At night, the moon shines into the room, and when it is clear I see some stars even though I’m only two blocks from several busy intersections.
Some years ago, I realized that the brightest “stars” were planets. I’ve read a few books by armature astronomers, seen a few presentations, and I try to remember which planets are in which window. Last Saturday night, I actually saw the planets.
On the third Saturday of the month, weather permitting, the local astronomers set up their telescopes and invite the public to come see our universe. I had been seeing a notice in the newspaper for at least the last two years, but never got around to going. I’d put it on my calendar on Tuesday and come Saturday we had clouds all day. Or, I’d get busy in the yard and decide that finishing what I was doing was more important.
This event, by members of the Stockton Astronomical Society, (stocktonastro.org.), is held at Oak Grove Regional Park on Eight Mile Road in San Joaquin County, along side of I-5 going north from Stockton, about three miles from my home.
I got there before dark so I could look over the park, because I drive by frequently, but had never actually been inside it. The park is loaded with ducks and other birds. The day had been hot, but the Delta breeze was making it a perfect night.
Venus is the brightest planet and the first to appear in the west just after sunset above the trees. For a brief time, Mercury could be seen as a bright pin- point between two trees near the horizon.
The moon had been visible since late afternoon, high in the sky looking south. I saw its lacy-looking surface in the first telescope I looked into. There were eight or nine telescopes of all sizes set up by individual owners.
As the sky darkened, Jupiter became visible just to the right of the moon. I was getting acquainted with some of the astronomers and their family members. The owner of the scope gets the planet in view so each visitor can take a look. When I looked at Jupiter through the scope I was surprised to see three round balls next to it all in a row, similar to this photo, but they were graduated in size and looked like little creatures following mama. Amazing!
There was a lot of standing around and waiting for darkness so more things would be visible. I was watching the people. And making a mental list of things to bring next month. Like a chair, a flash light, and munchies.
One of the astronomers told us that he has a set up at home to take photos of stars and other space objects, like a star that blew up in 1054, which somehow he saves on his phone. Fascinating. Way beyond anything I can understand.
To the east, Saturn appeared near the horizon. We had to wait until it moved up in the sky a little and somewhat clear of the “dust” from earth. By now it was dark, and many more people had come to look through the scopes.
Saturn was tilted so its rings looked like a doughnut standing on its side, bright yellow with a touch of orange. What I saw in the center was the grey ball of the planet. This image is the closest I could find on the net. We were told Saturn will be better next month.
By this time, my body was telling me it had stood around enough for one night. Next time I come out, I’ll know what to expect, and I’ll stay longer and see the stars.