My family and I met friends at Whitewater State Park in Minnesota for a weekend of outdoor fun. Our campsite was on the fringe of the hub of activity. We traveled in and out of the hub much like comets going around the sun.
One of the park’s evening programs featured an amateur astronomer. As the sun began its evening descent, he set up his telescope in an open area near the ranger’s station in the park valley. First one star, then another appeared in the sky. That was enough the calibrate the telescope, so that it could accurately locate any item in its electronic catalog.
More and more stars appeared in the darkening sky. Soon there were far more than are visible in the metro sky at home. A starlit sky is one of my favorite things about camping. Adding to the show was a hidden moon, allowing for much better viewing.
One of the first stars making its presence known isn’t a star at all. Saturn. We lined up for our chance to look in the telescope. I have never seen Saturn and its rings with my own eye before. Beautiful. One of our sun’s satellites quietly drifting along its orbit, tilted just right to show off those iconic rings. Had timing been just right, we would have been able to see tiny black dots in front of the planet. Saturn’s moons, quietly drifting along their own orbits.
We looked at a pair of suns, one orange-red, the other blue. I think one of them is labeled M57, and has an Arabic name. They are many light years away from us, but only one light year away from each other. Relatively close, astronomically. Each following their own orbits around some distant center somewhere in the heavens.
While looking up we saw the International Space Station glide across the sky. First brilliantly bright, then quickly fading away as it moved out of the sun’s rays. We saw a few other satellites cross the sky, each following its own path around our planet.
Occasionally, a firefly would fly overhead, showing off its tiny light, mimicking a satellite miles above it. First visible, then hidden from sight.
So much to see in a dark, brilliantly starlit sky, on a satellite quietly drifting along on its orbit.