Touching the Stars

I am a keen amateur astronomer, and although I don’t get out with my telescope as often as I’d like to these days it’s a huge passion of mine that literally changed the way I look at the World. I have done a lot of visual observation (simply looking through various different eyepieces) over the last few years, and have also dabbled in some very amateur astro-photography. I’ve taken photos of Saturn, Mars, Jupiter and the Moon with varying degrees of success which you can view by finding me on Facebook – photos can be found in the respective albums for the different planets.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Saturn; it literally changed my life.

My first (and only) telescope is equipped with GPS and an internal computer that allows it to automatically find and track celestial objects in the night sky once aligned. The alignment process is very simple, having just to point the scope at three bright stars in different areas of the sky and it is then able to calculate where everything else is in relation to the objects you’ve selected. Very clever. Why waste time trying to find them manually when such an ingenious piece of technology exists! For me, this was perfect, as it meant I could spend more time doing what really greased the wheels of awe in my mind; observing, and drinking in the heavens.

So the first night I had my scope, it was just getting dark. The sky was an inky blue, and the first stars were beginning to show. When it was dark enough I began the alignment process – probably more excited than a kid at Christmas!

I zeroed in on my first star, and moved to the next. For those of you who haven’t had the privilege of observing celestial objects through a telescope, stars are still points of light in the inky black regardless of how big your telescope or how powerful the eyepiece you’re using with it. So, there was nothing particularly spectacular to see whilst I was completing this alignment process.

Until I landed on what I thought was my second star…

I roughly aligned it with my lower powered view finder, and then lowered my eye to the eye piece which was already well focused from the first star I’d aligned to. WOW! My second star was Saturn! What met my gaze was the most beautiful orange/yellow ball I’d ever seen in my life, complete with the magnificent wings we all know and love from images previously taken and published by the many space agencies and professional astro-photographers in the World.

It blew my fucking mind. Partly because I wasn’t expecting it, and partly because it was one of the most beautiful and humbling sights I had ever the pleasure of seeing. If you ever get the opportunity, you must see it for yourself – the pictures don’t ever do it justice.

Since that day, I have seen what must be hundreds of magnificent celestial objects, both in our local system and in deep space, from double star systems, nebulae, and star clusters, to distant galaxies hanging in the black cloth (my favourite of which has to be the Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as Messier 51a, with its spectacular spiral arms winding around its brilliant white core as it devours the smaller galaxy which lies in orbit with it).

As I have studied these objects, and the physics of space and light, it got me thinking.

When I bend down to look into the eye piece of my telescope, or even just gazing up at the night sky from a dark spot, the image that hits my eye and is registered by my brain is a collection of light photons that have travelled millions, if not billions or trillions, of kilometres across space. To extrapolate on this thought, those photons of light were made in the ferocious nuclear core of a star somewhere in the heavens – now, let’s consider their journey…

The photon leaves the star (for the purpose of this example, we’ll use our star, the Sun) and travels unabated at light speed across the expanse of space until it hits an object – let’s say Saturn’s  rings. Once that photon light hits a particle of dust or ice in Saturn’s rings, it flies off in a new direction; this time towards Earth. It continues it’s journey through space until it hits our atmosphere, and once it arrives here it is perfectly aligned to be captured by the primary mirror of the telescope. Here it once again bounces around inside the OTA (Optical Tube Alignment) and ends up speeding straight towards your eye where it’s journey ends as it’s absorbed and processed by the visual cortex in your brain.

Now, I’ve vastly simplified this process for ease of understanding and getting the main point across – that being that when you look at the stars in the sky, or any object in a telescope (or indeed any object at all) you are quite literally touching it. The continuous stream of light photons are a very real energetic connection between your brain/consciousness and, in the case of this example, the magnificent rings of one of the most beautiful and spectacular planets in our solar system.

I think of this whenever I am lucky enough to get out underneath the stars and view the endless beauty of the heavens. It humbles me. It gives me a surreal sense of connection with everything in the visible universe, the unknown, and the undercurrent of feeling that there’s something more to all this than the day to day bullshit we busy our lives with.

We are all connected to everything, and I hope that more and more people will understand that and feel what I feel when I am immersed in the heavens so as that sense of connection will drive our conscious minds to connect with people, respect each other and the gift we have in this place we call home, and ultimately work together to make the World a better place for all.

Perspective is everything.

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