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Saturn at Ninety-Nine
Saturn at Ninety-Nine

"Points of light! Who wants to spend a lot of money just to look at points of light?"

"Well, it's my money, and I want to buy a telescope."

Thus began our journey into backyard (front yard in our case) astronomy. My husband was not impressed, but I was succumbing to constant pressure from enthusiastic colleagues at Kitt Peak National Observatory where I am a docent.

I finally used the one irresistible trump card for my husband: research. "Would you be willing to help me find the best scope? You wouldn't ever have to look through it." So Jim started looking online, and eventually went to the local telescope store. He came home a changed man! "They're suggesting an 8" Dobsonian; you'll have to see it. It looks like a really serious telescope!" I let him convince me, but I still asked five different friends, separately, at Kitt Peak what they would suggest I buy if I had this much money and was only going to buy one telescope in my life. After they finished laughing about "only one telescope," every one of them suggested an 8" Dobsonian. With that confirmation, Jim and I went to the telescope store and came home with our new toy.

Of course I was blamed for the next few weeks of cloudy weather, but by January the sky was clear, we had the telescope figured out, and were ready to subject every guest who happened by to a tour of the wonders of the night sky. Jim had become the Number One Expert, devouring books on astronomy.

My mother, at 98, was eager to take a look. She wanted to see "the Big Bang, before and after". On her next visit, we set up the scope on the front porch to look at the nearly full moon as it rose over the mountains. As she leaned over to take a look, she put her hand on the telescope tube to steady herself; we caught her as she pitched forward. When she finally managed to peek through the eyepiece, the glare of the bright moon hurt her eyes. We immediately put a moon filter on our shopping list and promised another try on another visit.

Subsequent visits were clouded out (my fault, of course) but on Mother's 99th birthday, we planned carefully. We used a kitchen step stool for her to lean on, and carefully escorted her out to our new telescope pad by the driveway. We aimed the scope at Saturn, got Mother into position, and held our breaths while she tried to find the image in the field of view. Suddenly, "Saturn really does have rings! I can actually see them!" It wasn't the Big Bang, and certainly not "before", but it was a magnificent moment.

Details
Date Taken: 06/15/2011
Author: Joyce P
Category: Orion's Astronomy Essay Contest (2009)

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