At about 12:45am on October 22, 2010, I was outside stargazing in my backyard lazily admiring the subtle Hartley comet at its brightest that it would be all year. That's when I received a call from a friend. She and two other friends noticed that the sky was particularly clear and remembered my open invitation to come by to look through my telescope ever since I received it back in the middle of August. They figured I was already outside and wanted to take in some sights with me. I told them about the comet and invited them over.
They arrived at 1:15am… just as a cloud cover floated in like an oblivious parade of cotton balls. The only objects bright enough to pierce through the cloud cover were the full moon and Jupiter. I tried showing them greater detail of both of those objects, but the prevailing clouds reduced the images to appear as nothing more than murky balls of light. We were disappointed and amused at the ironic timing of this event. But they were truly disheartened that we wouldn't be able to see anything. Before they left, I promised a clear view of the Moon and Jupiter on a different night.
About a week later at midnight, I got my chance. The sky was completely cloudless and the Moon was a bit dimmer in its waning gibbous phase. I called the same friends from last time and said that the night was perfect for what we wanted to see. The comet was out of the question, sadly, because Hartley was already too dim to appear strongly in my low-powered telescope. Only one of them could make it that night. When she arrived, I already had the telescope pointed at Jupiter.
I advised her that it would look nothing like what she was probably accustomed to seeing in science textbooks, but it was still an awesome sight. She figured as much. As soon as she glimpsed through the eyepiece and saw the king of the planets surrounded by its four largest moons, she gasped in a mix of surprise and awe and concluded with a hushed, “Wow”. At that moment, I could tell that she was genuinely appreciative as I was of what a dark and clear sky had to offer.
After a few minutes of looking at Jupiter, she requested to see the Moon. Happily, I brought its cratered surface into focus and let her observe the details of the crevices and crags as no textbook could illustrate. As she gazed, the phrase, “That's so cool” took on a different tone each time she repeated it.
For the next hour or so, I introduced her to the many objects in the northern autumn night sky like the Orion Nebula and the Pleiades. So few people get the pleasure of seeing such sights up close with their own eyes. I was grateful for the opportunity to spread the wonder that I experience every clear night to other people.