Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Jupiter and Europa

The other night, I had a chance to watch Europa come out from behind Jupiter. (Kids, don't try this at home unless you want to lose your night vision.)

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
  1. 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
  2. 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.
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