T is for Telescope

telescope: an optical instrument containing an arrangement of lenses designed to collect and focus rays of light, making distant objects appear nearer.

observatories-half-pageI’m a big science geek, especially when it comes to astrophysics. Talk about the Big Bang Theory and my brain goes into rapid-fire mode. Mention the expansion of the Universe and my heart breaks out in a quick pitter-patter. SPLOID is my new favorite blog.

I was a decent science student, but didn’t pursue it much past high school. Writing and literature, politics and history grabbed me by the hand and pulled me deep into the world of liberal arts. I don’t pretend to understand exactly how the data is collected or the algorithms that prove one theory or another are formulated. I only know that the mysteries of the Universe never fail to thrill me and I marvel at every exploding star, each newly discovered reverberation of a long ago cosmic boom. There is no better evidence of the divine than the science of the Universe. Only the absolutely ordinary yet wondrous existence of my girls can compare.

Ella and Ruby are two and half years apart, the result of family planning and the expectation that I would, of course, have children, no problem. Lilah, on the other hand, took root after three years of trying when we’d sadly given up. At first we fretted over the how and why and what ifs. Then she arrived, and the once unending Universe of possibilities faded away. Priorities shifted. Hearts grew. Her coming was a ray of light.

A few weeks after Lilah was born, in the summer of 2011, scientists discovered a young supernova close enough to earth to see with binoculars or better yet, through a basic telescope. A star that had exploded in the Big Dipper 21 million light years away but close enough to see? I absolutely had to see it. Not every member of my family shares my unbridled enthusiasm for all things celestial, but there was no way we were going to miss the “supernova of a generation.” We bundled four-week-old Lilah in a fleece sleeper and hat and the girls in their ski jackets (summer nights in northern California run chilly). Chabot Space & Science Center in the East Bay hills was open for free telescopic viewings of the event. It wouldn’t be dark enough for a clear view until after 9 p.m. It was going to be a late night.

The telescopes at Chabot are enormous. Expert astronomers come by while we wait in line to tell us about the exploding star, formally known as PTF 11kly. I try to explain to Ella and Ruby that the light we’re about to see through the telescope didn’t actually exist anymore at its point of origin. It’s just finally traveled far enough through space to reach us. I’m pretty sure they don’t get it. And they’re starting to grumble about standing in line. And it’s getting really late.

Finally, it’s our turn. Ruby peers through the scope, fascinated by the brilliant view of stars so close up. Then Ella takes a turn.

“It looks like a freckle in the sky, mama.”

An exploding star millions of light years away is at once momentous and yet as incidental as a tiny freckle on the vast face of the Universe. I am stunned.

When I step up to the telescope myself, my eyes are filled with tears. The supernova is nothing but a brilliant blur streaking across the lens. I wipe my eyes and suddenly the telescope brings it all into focus. We are all specks in the Universe, exploding and sending out our light, hoping someone will catch a glimpse of us before we fade away.

The girls and I climb down from the deck to find a slumbering Lilah strapped to Josh’s chest. The girls fall asleep on the drive home. I look out the window at the starry sky content in my smallness. I am in the center of the most divine Universe, surrounded by my favorite shining stars.

I’m participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge during the month of April using the very broad theme of LOVE to carry me through the alphabet. Check out writing by other bloggers taking on the #atozchallenge at @AprilA2Z.

 

6 thoughts on “T is for Telescope

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