Friday evening we finally had a break in the clouds, the skies were clear and full of stars and I was finally able to fulfill a promise to my eldest daughter. This term her class topic at school is space and she’s taken to it with a hungry passion to discover and learn. We’ve already spent hours looking up pictures of the planets, Curiosity Rover and of course, Commander Chris Hadfield’s many You Tube postings (if you’ve not seen his version of Space Oddity you really must). Aliens are currently very popular in our household, though I was more impressed by her linkage of dinosaurs to space by way of asteroids.
She’s been learning the planets and their moons, and will happily correct grandparents on the current status of Pluto. She knows more dwarf planets than I did aged 5, but then that concept didn’t exist when I was a child, such has been the rapid expansion in our knowledge of the solar system. My wife and I have to be careful reading old space books, that our parents have kept from the ’80s; they’re so full of inaccuracies and plain wrong speculations.
Anyway, back to my promise. I had said that when we have a clear evening I would set up my telescope and we would have a look for some planets. That night finally arrived on Friday. After tea we wrapped up warm and went into the garden with a chair and the telescope.
First we looked for Jupiter. Being the brightest object after the Moon, it’s not hard to find with the naked eye, but much harder to with an old telescope designed for bird watching rather than astronomy. Eventually I found it, a small white dot against the blackness of Space. Three small dots of light, at the limit of my scopes detection, might have been 3 of Jupiter’s 4 Galilean moons. It was her first sight of a truly alien world and, even if it did look a little underwhelming, I think she was quite impressed.
Next we turned our attention to the half-moon, high in the night sky. It took her a few seconds to get the focus right, but then I saw the moon’s reflected light, shining on her eye through the small lens of the eye piece and a smile of absolute wonder spread across her face. Even with a relatively modest degree of magnification you can see a remarkable amount of detail on Moon’s surface. I asked her what she could see. Craters came back the reply, 10 of them! I hope that wonder, her joy at discovery, is never lost. I hope too that it starts an interest in science that our schools don’t kill off, just because she is a girl.