I took the telescope out a few weeks ago to view Jupiter as our two worlds passed close to each other. The close orbit of this large planet was all over the news and I took time out that evening to see if I could actually view anything. I didn't think much of it at the time because a full moon obscured the night sky with a blue glow which normally meant that it is difficult to see any distant object in space. I set up my telescope and pointed it at a bright light that I had determined was Jupiter, the giant gas planet overhead. When I looked through the view finder, the bright light was just slightly larger but it wasn't the classic ball of swirling gas that we all know from text books and television documentaries. I was a little disappointed but when I looked closer, I could see four smaller lights lined up on either side of what I thought might be the giant gas planet. I then realized with excitement that I was looking at the distant moons of Jupiter.
I was thrilled to be looking at something so far away from our own world through my little looking glass in the backyard. I watched for about an hour as the four famous moons of Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto slowly made their progression around the giant planet. I felt lucky that I had decided to take a chance on viewing this rare sight of Jupiter and its planets.
There was not much expertise or sophistication involved. I purchased my telescope for $20 and although it is not the most powerful tool for astronomy, it is sufficient. I had pointed it to the heavens previously but only found distant points of light that did not show anything unique. I was excited to find another planet I could actually see in motion. It was exciting because it was the first time I had the opportunity to see something as incredible as the moons of Jupiter. Galileo, the famous Italian astronomer had done the same thing in 1609 with a home made telescope that was probably not as good as mine.
I have always had an interest in astronomy and studied the stars and planets as much as I could when I was growing up in Attawapiskat. It was a strange hobby for someone on the James Bay coast but in a way it made sense too. There was no practical application to this kind scientific knowledge even though my people had used the stars long ago to make their way home on the land. This passion wouldn't help me fix an engine, find food for my survival or lead to any meaningful employment for my future.
On several occasions I passed on some of what I learned to mom and dad but most of the time they thought I was just being a little silly. The more I went on about spinning planets or even impossibly distant stars a hundred times the size of our planet existing in the sky, well, the more crazy they thought I was.
The most interesting idea that occurred to me when I looked at the stars was the thought of how insignificant we are in this vast universe. I came across quotes and interviews with famous astronomers such as Carl Sagan, who put our existence into perspective. I remember reading a passage where he asked the reader to imagine our world from orbit, to see our planet, then to slowly move away to the orbit of Mars. In this way our Earth would end up as a tiny blue light in the sky. Further along as we pass the planets that make up our solar system, the blue light would disappear and we would only be able to see the bright sun in the distance. The farther we flew into space, our sun would become a tiny point of light obscured by other points of light that make up our galaxy. Farther past our galaxy we could see millions of other galaxies that make up our known universe.
We may think that our world is all important to us but in the grand view of the universe, our troubles, our questions and our problems do not amount to much. We are simply a point in space floating around an average star in a normal galaxy. This was always a wonderful realization for me when I looked at the stars as I discovered that it did not matter to me if I was stuck in a remote Native community in the wilderness. When I thought enough about it, I realized that we are all living in a small isolated world in a remote part of the wilderness that makes up the universe. The only important thing is in how we live in our own little part of existence and what good or positive things we can do to make life enjoyable. Sometimes it really helps to look up at the star filled universe and just feel lost in the wonder of it all.www.underthenorthernsky.com
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