Rooftop Stargazing and Temporal Dominoes

4 Oct

See that dot?

Clearly, I need a telescope. Is anyone watching the Hubble?

It’s tempting to go with Sagan here: “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.” (Yes, I have that memorized, mostly inadvertently.) But it’s not here/home/us. It is, according to every internet resource I can find combined with my common sense, Jupiter. It is by far the brightest object in the sky besides the Moon and various airplanes.

You see, my building has some very nice rooftop decks that no one seems to use on weeknights when it’s SoCal-cold outside. So I’ve started going out there most days to get some alone time with the stars and various Neal Stephenson tomes.

There are stars and constellations I think I have identified with some certainty — my problem, besides my lack of telescope, is possessing the sense of direction of a brick. Seriously, you can see a bit of highway near the bottom of that picture. My bedroom window faces it, too. I don’t know what highway it is.

A third and equally serious problem is the city itself. Between the light-pollution and the pollution-pollution, you can see only the brightest of stars on the clearest of nights. So while I think I can see a large percentage of Pegasus, or most of Cassiopeia, or three stars that must be part of Cygnus, they lose some of their status as constellations.

Of course, that makes part of me want to name my own constellations. “That one is… Triangle. And that one is… Obtuse Triangle.” (Listen, the reason I read so much as a child is that my own imagination was crap. It needed, and still needs, honing. And it’s been a long few weeks of midterms.)

It’s been a very long few weeks. I had my last midterm today, and then went to see Jerry Carr give a talk, which I thought was going to be an amazing way to celebrate being done with exams. And it was a really excellent talk, with a lot of good questions asked. Still, sometimes just hearing about the early days of space exploration really makes me feel grim about where we are today. This time, it happened to be compounded by the fact that I had just watched The Right Stuff.

Long story short, I needed my daily dose of rooftop stargazing today. And it was cloudy. Still, I picked a likely bench, and looked up. And there was Jupiter, bright behind the clouds. And the Moon, nearly half-full. Sometimes I direct irrational feelings of resentment towards the Moon, as if it were its own fault that humans had not been up there for nearly four decades. Tonight was one of those nights.

Then I looked further up. I don’t know if anyone passing by ever sees me doing this. I probably look mad. Whatever. To see Pegasus, Cygnus, Aquila (I think), and Vega (though the rest of Lyra is invisible here), you have to look straight up.

I thought I spotted a star where one had been the night before, but then it started to move — an airplane. But it seemed so far away — did planes fly that high? And wasn’t it a little blue to be an airplane? A few blinks confirmed the very obvious fact: it was a star, and staying still, while the clouds moved around and across it.

And my iPod, far from playing the mortifyingly schmaltzy song I had previously had on repeat, was playing Marian Call’s new album, Something Fierce, which, let’s be honest, could easily be a narration of my life — or at least a perfect description of how I felt about life in that moment, with these low-slung clouds defying my depth perception against the backdrop of those impossibly faraway few city stars:

“And the stars will keep spinning if nobody sees them
And the moon will keep drawing the ocean apart
If you’re smothered in cities of fragile agreement
Then pack your bags yesterday yesterday yesterday.”

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