One of the great benefits of being an amateur scientist/astronomer is that when people find this out about you, their curiosity will be piqued and sometimes you’ll get to have a little dialog with them. There’s no better feeling for me than getting a chance to discuss something I’m so passionate about with someone who is genuinely interested. Sure, a lot of times the questions can seem somewhat mundane on the surface like, ‘what’s a galaxy’ or ‘where do stars come from,’ but the answers to these questions can in fact be very interesting. What’s even better is that they’ll almost always lead to bigger questions and deeper discussions of the universe we live in. The best part is that the enjoyment is mutual. I’ll often describe some science fact to a friend and find myself thinking about things that have never really ran across my mind. Not only that, seeing the look on someone’s face when they’ve had some sort of epiphany and learned something new about their world – no matter how big or small that thing is – is an awesome feeling.
This very thing happened to me while I was on vacation last week. My family and I were renting a house on Lake Erie in a very small and social community. I decided to set up my telescope in the park on the first clear night. By the time I got everything set up and the sky was dark enough, most people around town were on their way to bed. I decided to drag my family out anyways so they could get a nice look at the planet Saturn I had centered in the telescope’s eyepiece. They were all amazed. They all thought I had placed a picture over the eyepiece or something because they could not believe their eyes! I assured them that it was real and the gorgeous rings you could plainly see were Saturn’s actual rings – in real time. I gave them a quick description of some constellations and stars you could see and they all got some real enjoyment out of the whole thing which was super rewarding for me. After a bit, they all went back inside and I was left alone to gaze at the stars that god had spit-shined with his shirtsleeve and put on display for us that night. I noticed a couple I had never met walking by and asked if they wanted to see Saturn. They happily ran over and took a look. I will always remember the excitement and genuine enthusiasm that came from these folks that night. These strangers who I had never met were witnessing something about their world that they had never fully comprehended until then. I gave them the quick overview I gave my family earlier that night then they had to run, but I hope that their universe just got that much bigger for them. I hope they got half as much enjoyment out of those fleeting few minutes as I did.
And that is one of the reasons I am so grateful to my father who is currently helping me construct an observatory in my backyard. I’ll admit that an observatory – or any place to do any type of science for that matter – is something I’ve always dreamed about. But being able to share it with others just makes it that much better. Because after all, what is love when you can’t share it with others?