Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Shooting Jupiter

Ten days ago I chased a hurricane into Halifax late one Sunday evening. I was half expecting to paddle my friend's car the last thirty miles into the city, following rain sodden roads that ran like torrents. Instead I found dry roads, light winds and a clear Lite-Brite sky. I could hardly believe that the sky was unfettered as I was expecting chaos from above. I craned my neck and drew my eyes up to the star dappled beauty of the black night sky. The big dipper poured happiness and wonder upon the Jetta's starboard shoulder.

I commented to my chauffeur, Crazy Dave, that I had lost touch with the stars. People, in general, have lost touch with the night sky. It wasn't always that way as early European used sextants to take positional readings from the sun, moon and stars. They still managed to ram their ships up on reefs, but that was just a bit of Cousteau friendly fore-planning. With the advent of the Weather Network, portable GPS units and sweater filling meteorologists, few people make eye contact with the stars anymore?

As we approached Halifax and the cross harbour Mouth O' Darts, while still beyond the eerie glow that cities invariably emanate, I marveled at the big dipper, and the north star. I didn't actually admire the north star because I couldn't find it. I discovered later that the north star, Polaris, sits offshore of the little dipper, not the big dipper. I felt like a bigger dipshit than normal for being so adrift. That evening I promised myself that I'd pay more attention to the night sky in the future.

The future was near because just the other day I was having dinner with my friends the ecologists/biologists/conservationists/writers/artists/and all around nice peoplists, the Weatherleys. One half of this dynamic duo said "have you seen Jupiter?"

My answer? "No." At least not knowingly. I did see a bright star up by the moon, I thought to myself stupidly. Of course, it was Jupiter, and not a star. My patient and generous friends instructed me to use my binoculars or spotting scope to get a good view of Jupiter. When I returned home later that evening, I did just that. I could see Jupiter and four of its moons. It was, in a word, exciting.

Jupiter is huge, apparently. It contains two and a half times the mass of all the other planets combined. Because of its composition, Jupiter is known as a gassy giant, not unlike Uranus, Neptune, Saturn and my brother Doug. Jupiter was named after a Roman god which is befitting of such a grand planet. Planets like Saturn and Mars were named after defunct, or soon to be defunct, car companies. Mars was named after a chocolate bar. Earth was named after some worm worthy, top notch potting soil, and Uranus, well....some things are better left untouched.

I can remember, as a school boy, the utter delight in the discovery a planet called 'your anus'. I would titter like a toddler at the very mention of the planet in science class. Later on, some politically correct assholes started calling it 'you're in us', but I think that your anus is now back in vogue, so to speak. It's kind of a goofy name, like Pluto, but at least it doesn't rhyme with Venus.

I would encourage you to get in touch with Jupiter. You'll see it to the left of the moon in the early evening and night sky. You should be able to see its moons with a good set of binoculars, a spotting scope or high powered Bubbles glasses.

One of these nights I'm going to grab a blanket, find a meadow in the middle of nowhere and lay flat on my back. I'll study the night sky. On second thought, that's not very befitting of a leisurologist. I'll find a meadow in the middle of nowhere, place a comfy sofa or a futon on the ground, and study the night sky. I'm sure that I'll discover far off places that I'll never, ever visit in this lifetime. Places like the Andromeda galaxy, Uranus or Minto.

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