It's midnight. I'm crouched next to my 10" dob in some remote canyon in central Utah, shivering convulsively from the cold or giddiness or both. High above me the stars are spilled across a moonless, cloudless, pitch-black canvas. My fingers are freezing and my face is numb from the stiff breeze, but I couldn't care less. I'm staring up at one of the most awe-inspiring and beautiful creations I've ever seen.
And then I realize that she just asked me a question.
"So what's the name of that star?... "
I can quickly see she is pointing towards Arcturus, but there's no way I'm going to just blurt it out ("Well THAT star THERE is ARC-TUR-US!!" –insert excited nerd voice, suspenders, and an index finger pushing thick glasses up my nose). Nope. No way. She said yes to a night of stargazing, casual stargazing. I try to keep my reckless nerdiness a secret on first dates. It's a rule that has served me well.
So I keep it casual. I wait a couple of seconds and pretend to be studying that area of the sky, finally responding with "hmmm, let's see... I think that star is called Arcturus". Even that was risky. I shoot a sideways glance in her direction, but she doesn't seem to be too weirded out. She repeats slowly, "Arcturus... ", her eyes still focused in wonder on the orangish-yellow beacon high above us. Oh man, those eyes. That smile. This girl is gorgeous.
"Will you show me a galaxy?"
I aim the dob towards the end of the Plow, looking for one of my favorites, M51. Suddenly I glimpse it as it zooms through the field of view, the two interacting cores fuzzy and faint but clearly visible. I center the object and can just make out the beautiful spiral structure. I've seen this galaxy again and again but it never ceases to amaze me. Now I'm excited.
She steps to the eyepiece to look. Almost immediately I hear her gasp "wowwww. That's beautiful! What is it called?" I hesitate... (see rule #1 for first dates above)... but she seems so captivated, so curious. I'm trying to hold it all in, trying to just give another casual answer, but... I just... can't... help myself. I blurt out, "What you're looking at is the Whirlpool Galaxy!! It's over 20 million light years away. Think about it, light travels at 299 million meters a second. A second!" and on and on, my nerdiness gushing out like a broken water hydrant, all self-control thrown to the crisp wind.
I stop talking, my M51 nerd-facts totally exhausted. She doesn't respond, still looking intently in the eyepiece. What have I done?! I blew it! The astronomy nerd has been revealed!
After what seems like an eternity she stands and turns towards me. We're only inches from each other, and her dazzling eyes are trained on mine. She leans in close. At the last second I see her smile.
"Show me another galaxy."
Let me be clear. I love astronomy.