Friday, April 15, 2005

Second Stop, Jupiter

A few birthdays ago my wife bought me a really nice telescope. It's programable. You can set it to find objects in space. Once you're on target, it follows the object as it moves across the heavens (or compensates for the rotation of the Earth if you wish to avoid romanticism). I use it every once in a while. Sometimes I'm even able to remember how to program it so I can view a planet for a good long time, usually until the head pain begins. A few weeks ago, I felt like Gallileo as I pondered the rings of Saturn. Tonight, my daughter and I spied Jupiter and some of its moons. We could also see faint differences in shading, like stripes, on the gas giant. The last time I watched Jupiter over a period of nights, I could see three or four of its moons at a time, and they were always on the same line stretched out across the sky (lens). This time two were close to each other, one off the line, higher than the other, with another wandering much further out. I also thought I saw, but my daughter says she didn't, a fourth moon seeming to hug the planet and not on the same line with the others. According to the software that came with the telescope, I didn't see the fourth one. But what does software know?

No matter how many moons we saw, I find it impossible not to be awed by Jupiter, so far out in the solar system, billions of miles away, and yet part of our tiny corner of the Universe.

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