Starwatch – October 4-5, 2016
My father was in the Signal Corps during World War II. He was stationed in occupied Japan for awhile after the war’s end. Sometime during my childhood he showed me something he brought home. It was a Japanese telescope. Not intended for stargazing, it was a surveyor’s telescope without the tripod. I spent hours at night laying in the grass on my back holding that ancient telescope up to my eye and watching the stars.
Recognizing my interest, my dad took me to the home of Buddy Phillips one night. Mr. Phillips had a telescope he had made from a kit. It had expensive glass in a handsome cylinder. Mr. Phillips focused on the subject of the night, the ever popular planet Saturn. When I was permitted to look, the image took my breath away. I could not only see Saturn and its rings, but also many of its moons.
A year or so later, my father gave me a pair of binoculars for my birthday or Christmas, I can’t remember. I have no idea what happened to the Japanese telescope, but I still have those binoculars today – some 45 years or so later. They were not as powerful as Mr. Phillips’ telescope, but they were remarkable in what they allowed me to see.
A few years ago, someone mentioned the International Space Station was visible with the naked eye. This news led me to learn when to look and at what time. My wife and I were sitting on the patio of the Mi Ranchito Mexican Restaurant on Memorial Boulevard in Martinsville when the time arrived. I stood up, walked to the gated ledge and looked in the general direction where it was to be seen… and there it was… faster than a jet and brighter than a star. It was beautiful! Just like the excited kid with the Japanese telescope, I jerked around, announced to everyone having dinner that the Space Station was in clear view and absolutely this was something you had to see. That’s when I fully realized my overzealous interest in space, stars, and Space Stations was not shared by most others and not by anyone on that patio that night.
My enthusiasm is not in anyway dependent upon sharing it with someone else, but just in case you are someone who does find the subject mildly fascinating… last night about 45 minutes after sunset Gracie and I were on our evening walk. As I was passing the First Baptist Church on Starling Avenue, there is a somewhat unobstructed view toward the West – Northwest where you can see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance and the sky above them. Last night there were two bright objects in the sky – the moon and Venus. How beautiful. The lighted building in the center is the old Pannill Knitting Building on Cleveland Avenue. As you can see from the image from EarthSky.org Venus was the closest last night. Saturn will be tonight.
Oh… I almost forgot… the International Space Station can be seen tonight for 3 minutes about 10 degrees above the northwest horizon beginning at 7:27 PM. Unfortunately I don’t have a view anywhere close. Maybe you do!