06May2017

Why I Love Astronomy

The surface of a fictional planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our sun. This appeared in “The New Challenge of the Stars”. Notable here is the Cassiopeia “W” on the right with an extra star, that star being our own sun.

Most of my childhood was spent in the seventies. Technology was still very new at best and I was just beginning to wonder about the heavens. What’s it like? How many stars  are up there? Here, in his own words, US resident John Kinane tells his story: The spectacular images produced by the Hubble Space Telescope and even by amateurs today were not remotely possible yet. The imaginations of space artists were in full control of any astronomical visions of that time. The visions they produced were enough for me to feel hooked at a very young age.

Orion Star Trails

This is a picture of the constellation Orion. The trails are acheived but leaving a camera lens open while the stars move across the sky then following them at the end of the exposure. This picture was also the cover image on “Sky and Telescope” in March, 1948

Astronomy back then was for scientists and wealthy geeks that could afford the astronomical prices of equipment. Being neither I still managed to develop an interest. My first astronomy book was The Sky Observer’s Handbook. This book has been produced since the 1950′s.

It has changed very little since then. Only the charts have been updated. Today it has somewhat of a cult following in the amateur astronomer community. While I was fascinated with this book it was not the one that sold me on this life long love. The book that did that was “The New Challenge of the Stars” by Patrick Moore and David Hardy.

I was obsessed with this book in middle school. It opened up a world for me that I cannot explain in words. It didn’t just show star charts or pictures of stars. It showed full two page spreads of what it would look like to stand on the surface of another world. Many science fiction shows of the time tried to do this with laughable results.

These pictures were true scientific visions that changed my thinking completely. They introduced the idea that these places were real and the universe was full of them with countless variations.

A couple years later I was given my first telescope for my fifteenth birthday. The first object I ever saw in a telescope was Jupiter. Seeing it’s moons and colors jump out at me was stunning. The idea that this place and many others were in the night sky every night amazed me. The second object I pointed at was Saturn. Rings as real my own hand in front of me.

I remember being confused that so many people had no idea that all of this was right above their heads and seemed not to care. I tried a couple times to image the stars with an old “Brownie” camera because it was possible to open it’s lens for a time exposure. I was not successful unfortunately. Still, the fascination was fed by the trying.

A year later I began subscribing to Astronomy Magazine. It published images that I had never seen before and were only then recently possible. It also made me aware that there was an entire amateur community I was completely unaware of. I would also be remiss if I did not mention Carl Sagan‘s Cosmos and Contact.

Ice Cave on Pluto

A view from an ice cave on Pluto looking back at our sun by David Hardy. Appeared in “The New Challenge of the Stars”

Both extremely influential for me and other countless millions.

Astronomy is more to me than a science or a fascination with pretty pictures. It is a culmination of everything that matters to the human race. Beauty, hope, adventure, excitement, danger, power, the need to explore, the need to know where we came from and where we are going, and, perhaps most importantly, to know the mind of God.

One can always look into the night sky and say with definitive certainty that the answers to everything are out there. Answers of which I would be privileged to know even a minute fraction.

I did not pursue astronomy as a vocation. At that critical time after high school I did not possess the math skills necessary to be taken seriously by any institution of higher learning. There were many reasons for this but none seem to matter anymore. I held on to my interest and still do.

I still find time to “look up” whenever I can. Not a single one of those times do I not gaze and wonder and wish that I could stand upon one of the many worlds I have imagined and upon the countless worlds I have not.

Source: John Kinane is a resident of Hilton, New York, a suburb of Rochester, New York. A former middle school band director and music teacher.

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