Orion's Astronomy Essay Contest drew a record number of submissions for a chance to win a SkyQuest XX12i Truss Tube IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope!
Our contest asked stargazers and astronomy enthusiasts to write about their most memorable astronomy experience. There were, of course, so many great stories, but we selected Michael F's poignant story of stargazing with his friend, and this friend's uneasy search for answers.
Michael only had a small telescope, but it was enough to help his friend understand the dark sky – and confront his fears.
Congratulations, Michael. Have fun scanning the skies with your new SkyQuest XX12i Truss Tube IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope!
Here is Michael's essay:
Dee often looked up, and he loved the sky, but he had stopped asking questions in the fourth grade. That was a long time ago, and now he was a business owner with daily concerns. Still, in the night, his eyes wandered heavenward, and he marveled, but he didn't ask questions about what he saw.
I worked for him, and one day he asked me a seemingly casual question. "Michael, You have a telescope don't you?"
"Yeah, it's kind of small, but it's pretty nice."
He seemed a little nervous as he asked if I could take him out to see some stars the next night. Of course I was delighted to take him.
On that night, as he looked at the setting moon, he asked, "How far away is it?" Thinking nothing of it, I said, "Oh, about a quarter of a million miles; it'd be a long drive."
He sat looking up for another minute or two, and then he said, "And you told me that there's this galaxy we can see if we stay here till about midnight. You said it's close as galaxies go; how far is it?"
"Ah, the Andromeda Galaxy; it is about 2.1 million light years away."
He asked what a light year was, and so I launched into a small lecture about it, and universal scale.
Dee, silent again for a moment, said, "Well, I haven't gone crazy, have I?" I looked at him in the dim evening light and said, "I don't think so. Why, what's on your mind."
Dee smiled an odd little smirk, "When I was in fourth grade I had a teacher, and I asked her a lot of this stuff. One day, she told me that if I keep asking these questions, I'd go crazy. I believed her. I quit asking because I didn't want to go crazy."
His eyes seemed to grow damp in the dim light, but his voice was calm. "Look, I realize that it probably isn't true. Seriously, It's OK, right Michael?"
I was speechless for a moment. "Dee, some people think I'm a little strange, but yes. It's safe."
After that night, he began to talk and to ask questions. Once, after gaining some insight into Relativity, he said, "All this, and I'm still not crazy. . . am I?"
"No Dee, you're right on center, or thereabouts."
He smiled, knowing that he was free to ask anything. He said, "but there's more to this Einstein stuff though, right?"
"Yes", I said, "But be careful; it'll drive you crazy." We laughed.
I took Dee observing again later that fall, but never again. The next year, at about the age of 39, he took ill, and he eventually lost his life to cancer.
It was a small telescope and a darkening sky that gave Dee the courage to challenge his greatest fears and to seize what he wanted most: The ability to question and understand his universe.