Lighting the Fuse

President's September Update

At the August General Meeting I brought a jar labeled Accomplishment Bank, and to my surprise and delight, someone made a deposit in that bank. She said she attended the 2016 Bryce Canyon National Park annual Astronomy Festival. Lucky her! Bryce Canyon is in Utah and is no doubt worth the travel time to get there for clear dark skies. She also visited a friend and former RCA member who has moved to Utah. They both volunteered for the event. I had to smile when she described how a view of Saturn “lit the fuse” of one twenty-something viewer. Saturn just does that to people.

I was ten years old, my family was on vacation in California, and we visited the Griffith Park Observatory. I experienced my first ever planetarium show, so magical and so impressive. Then we lined up in a long, slow line for a chance to look through an eyepiece in what struck me as a really big telescope. It was probably the 12-inch refracting telescope which more than seven million people have looked through since it was installed in 1935. I will never forget climbing the short ladder to get to the eyepiece and seeing Saturn, so still and clear and absolutely beautiful in that eyepiece. I gasped. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything its equal. But I’ve seen Saturn do that again and again. Saturn just makes life worth living.

And we know what she means about someone’s fuse lighting up. I call it catching fire. At any given public event, most people say thank you and lots of people go home happy, but then there is that one person who lingers, who’s become agitated, who starts to pace, asking questions, wanting more, showing signs up being willing at that moment to throw over their entire life to stand at the telescope. It happened again at Haggart on Saturday night the 27th. “Where can I find a bigger scope,” demanded a young woman that night. When I told her she might like the Goldendale Observatory, I thought she was going to jump in her car and take off that moment. I invited her to RCA meetings and OMSI public star parties, and will not be the least surprised when she shows up. It’s really fun when you see that someone’s gotten bitten by the bug, because we’ve all been there. Once upon a time, we were that person, the one who said “Wow, I’ve got to get a telescope. I need to see this again.”

And it’s never too late. My reporter said that an older woman pledged to get out and learn the constellations once she understood how to read an atlas. “So two more people are interested in astronomy now,” reports our RCA traveling member. Now that’s as good an accomplishment as ever was, that’s what it is.