Sometimes, I have moments of mind-blowing clarity, epiphany, and illumination when I observe something that I thought I understood and accepted as scientific and factual truth in my limited tiny human way, then I find a new way to experience that thing, and my eyes are opened even wider than I thought possible and entire world’s of wonder are revealed – like living jewels floating in a sea of blackness. This happened tonight when I placed my eye to a telescope and peered at the distant planet Saturn and its moon Titan. Absolutely beautiful and mind-expanding was my experience peering through a rather inexpensive telescope from the porch of a beach house on Edisto Island, SC through 1.2 billion kilometers (746 million miles or 8.2 times farther from the sun than Earth) of space and time. Although Saturn looked like a tiny yellow ball surrounded by glowing golden rings and its fascinating giant yellowish moon Titan a shining point of light adjacent to the planet, I was blown away that I was actually seeing it in reality, as it existed in space and time.
Yes, I have seen it before – recently with my own telescope, at professional observatories, and so on – but the most memorable time was the first time many, many years ago – back in the late 70s when I peered at it through a friend’s dad’s telescope on the same night we watched Skylab crossing over only hours before it fell back to earth. But way back then I was a kid and I did not have a lifetime of experience with which to filter and understand my experience – tonight was very different and so much more powerful because tonight I saw Saturn again in reality. It was not a close-up photo taken by Hubble, a space probe, or a mountain-top observatory…it was a real experience that I lived and felt deeper than I ever thought possible. It was visceral, powerful, moving, mind-expanding, and all those other big words that try to do it justice but really cannot. It was the crushing, humbling, reality that we are such miniscule creatures yet we have built this incredible ability to see reality as it really is and to understand our tiny place in that reality. As Carl Sagan put it: “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
I was unable to acquire a photo due to technological limitations so the photo I have included is almost exactly what I observed although it was taken with a bit larger telescope.
This experience has reinforced what I have known for many years and what I live by:
- Experiential education is the best way to teach a person a thing, no matter what that thing is. Turn off your tv and get off your butt and get outside, look through a telescope, play in the mud, climb a tree, travel to other places, eat strange foods, meet new people, climb mountains, swim seas, raft rivers, ride a bike, do good things, be nice, make a difference, coexist with all lifeforms, live in continuous awe of the amazing, grand, ancient and wondrous nature that is all around us and you will better off for it – and remember that all the craziness and insanity of today matters not at all when compared to the vast nature of space, time and the cosmos.
- We are very, very small. Do not take things so seriously, live, laugh, love and above all else – do good things!