On Monday, June 10, they said that Jupiter would be closest to Earth and the best time to see it would be at night after the sundown. This was a good piece of news, to know in the middle of all the chaos of real life and knowing children are dying in concentration camps and Anthony Bourdain’s death anniversary has passed.
I’ve been watching the sky since getting that forecast. Lots of stars, and our moon, as well as palm trees swaying in the wind, but no Jupiter. Part of me suspects that the overcast skies may have something to do with it. Another factor may be having no sense of direction, apart from knowing where our moon is.
On Wednesday, June 12, I finally struck gold. The clouds cleared, and I could see Jupiter through my binoculars. Jupiter appeared, as a bright glowing orb. No dice on seeing its moons, like Europa and Io, but I saw the planet. And I got a picture of it.
Seeing Jupiter was oddly reassuring. It seemed to say that no matter what happened, Jupiter would always be there. So would the stars, the planets, and their moons if they had moons. We could wipe each other out, but the stars would stay in the sky. When they go supernova, it wouldn’t be our fault.
Why We Look Up
One of my friends explained that we find stars reassuring because, despite the changing winds, waves, and weather, the stars and planets are still there. That’s why astronomy was one of the first sciences developed, to help us navigate the oceans, to determine when the Nile would flood Egypt’s fields and provide much-needed fertility. People would study the sky to learn more about how to manage our day-to-day routine.
We look to the skies for answers. The stars keep moving, but they are constant. We know they will come after sunset, and gleam in the sky. If we go further into science, we know stars are balls of flaring gas millions of miles away, even trillions. It would take lifetimes to reach them unless we are like Ms. Frizzle on The Magic Schoolbus and can engage a hyperdrive. Yet we use them to make shapes in the clouds and to make sense of our chaotic world. And we try to learn more about our world by studying space.
Stars are also relaxing when you’re not thinking about supernovas or black holes. When I was a kid, I developed phobias of asteroids hitting Earth or the sun blowing up. That meant fearing that disaster would happen when we least expected. My siblings telling me the sun wouldn’t run out of hydrogen for millions of years didn’t help, however reassuring the words were because it’s hard to comprehend a million years.
What helped my fear? When it didn’t happen. The days would pass, the world wouldn’t end in 2005, 2008. Any asteroid that fell to Earth was about the size of a large boulder. Suddenly it felt like we had a future.
Our family enjoys planetariums because we get to look at the night sky. And there’s something remarkable about how we can chart these giant objects in space, some which cannot support life and some which may in good time. We have our eyes to the sky and the tools to find them.
I don’t think I’ll take up stargazing as a hobby since the telescopes are way beyond my price range and I don’t know how much time I’ll spend looking at the celestial bodies. But I may look to the sky more for reassurance, as the news gets worse and worse.