We'd been out in the country, away from the city lights, for about three hours. I'd say it was 11 PM. The Milky Way appeared in a blaze of glory from Sagittarius through the Summer Triangle, to Cassiopeia and Perseus. I stepped up to the telescope's eyepiece, mindful of the piercing cone of light which would resolve as (very) bright vision of Jupiter. I eased my sight onto the focused light, aware of my spasming right eye and contact lens.
Jupiter was as big as a button compared to the pinpricks of the stars. It was milky with bands of pastel red and orange. Three of the moons, Calisto, Ganymede, and Io, shone brightly in a line about ten o'clock to Jupiter. On the planet's opposite side, appearing as a goose pimple on one of the gas giant's darker bands, I could just discern Europa.
"Call the Pope," I joked, as Europa pulled away from Jupiter, and rose like a new bright star. Jerry Oltion pointed out that the telescope we were using has a much better resolution and magnifying power than Galileo's. But still, as I write this, I can't help but
- think about how I know that I'm looking at smaller bodies orbiting a larger one and so it's easier for me to attribute Jupiter and Europa's light show to Kepler's Laws of Planetary Mostion
- wonder how many modern people like myself have witnessed a moon coming out from behind a planet through a real live optical telescope.
I think I'll stop here before this turns into an intersection of science and religion essay.