Saturday, March 29, 2008

Stellar Distress

Actually it should be "de-stress," but I'm doing a little play on words.

Last night I spent a few hours out at my astro club's observatory under the stars. It's always been a great place for be to go when I want to "get away" from everything, calm down, de-stress, and just relax.

I didn't call anyone to come out and observe with me, mainly for two reasons. One, I'm sick and tired of always having to be the one to call and say "want to go out?" I mean, if people were interested in doing things with me, wouldn't they be the ones calling? And second, I just wanted some time by myself, and not have to make conversation about anything - people, places, things, photography, science, etc. I just wanted to observe. I didn't even bring any music along with me; I just wanted solace.

I toured the sky. I observed nebulae, galaxies, and start clusters. I took a lot of time observing the planet Saturn, which was shining brightly in the eastern sky. The seeing was very good, and I marveled at the planet's rings (which are closing from our vantage point), the detail on the planet's clouds, and the pinpoints of light surrounding the pale, ringed apparition: it's moons.

I took some time away from the eyepiece to watch some travelers in our local area. The ISS (International Space Station) was making a bright, high pass overhead. I watched it for nearly it's whole pass; from the southwestern sky until it disappeared low in the northeast. Tonight it was the brightest object in the sky, and it had some traveling companions as well. Proceeding it (but much fainter) was the Progress supply ship, and bringing up the rear a few minutes later was the Automated Transfer Vehicle Jules Verne. As ISS was traversing the area next to the Big Dipper, Verne was rising in the southwest, taking the exact path of ISS. And as Verne traveled near the Dipper, it was even joined by another point of light journeying north to south: the satellite Lacrosse 4.

I ended my evening journey through the cosmos by sitting on the front steps and watching the constellation Orion slowly sinking in the southwestern sky, heralding the end of the winter season, and bringing the promise of warmer weather, the "realm of the galaxies" and the promise of seeing different wonders of the Universe.

Could I have experienced the same thing with people around? Possibly, but it wouldn't have been as personal.

There are times when it's good to be alone. This was one of them.

De-stress complete.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008

Wow, that is news you never want to hear. Sad news; news that leads you to contemplation and remembrance.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke died today. For most people he's going to be best remembered as the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But to me, and others of his fans, he was so much more.

He was an author to be sure. He penned hundreds of books, both fiction and non-fiction. His fantastic writings in the mid 1940's predicted communication satellites, and today those satellites reside in an orbit around the earth commonly called "Clarke Orbits."

He was fascinated by everything, and he never lost that fascination. I had always hoped that somehow I would meet him, get to talk to him; heck even receive an email from him. But like with most things, this never happened. I don't know what I would have said to him; I might have been the giddy fanboy. I don't know. But his books meant a lot to me, and still do. Not just 2001, but Childhood's End, Sands of Mars, Songs of Distant Earth, A Fall of Moondust. Too many to mention here, but they all have special meaning to me.

In this day of crappy, meaningless science-fiction, Clarke's works were actually meant to make the reader think. No stupid "fantasy" stuff. No vampires, no dragons. Just "hard" sci-fi.

(But just try to find his work in the local bookstore. Only a few titles. The "modern" bookstore has thrown the "fantasy" books in with the actual science-fiction. Don't get me started on that.)

Clarke was a visionary... a critical thinker. And the world will be a lesser place now that he is gone.