RIP Neil26 Aug 2012
I've been reading up on the Apollo missions lately. It followed after reading about Sputnik, then the Mercury missions ("The Right Stuff" is incredible; I now know why Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thomson get mentioned in the same breath). Skipped over Gemini -- not much selection at my local library, but I want to fix this oversight -- then lots of Andrew Chaikin, Life magazine and, just finishing right now, First on the Moon (also written with/by Life magazine journalists). I was at the return flight, and kind of skimming over things, when I heard that Neil Armstrong had died.
Clara was going out that night, and I'd been promising the kids for a long time that we'd go out and look at the stars with the telescope, so I figured this was a good time to follow through.
"Hey guys, want to stay up late tonight and look through the telescope?"
"Can we watch movies?"
Note: I do feel bad about not doing this earlier. In my own defense, I have taken them out to a star party this month; I sat out with them at my parents' place this summer (skies dark like you would not BELIEVE) and shown them the Milky Way, told them that we live in a galaxy with billions, BILLIONS of stars. These things are important to me. But I want to do things that are fun for them, not just/only things that are important to me. I try hard to find the balance between making sure they feel welcome, and pestering them about things that bore them to death.
We stayed up and watched Power Rangers S.P.D (two episodes), a little bit of Ghostbusters, and some Pink Panther. And then we put on warm clothes and went out.
It was cloudy, a little bit, but not too much. It was around 8.30pm, and really dark was just in sight. The moon was up -- 67% full, according to my nerdy daily emails -- and low, too low to be seen from our 3rd floor window.
We looked at Saturn first. The highest magnification I had was 48X, so the rings were there, but not amazing -- but the kids saw them. The younger (4 years old) wanted to move the telescope around; the older (6 years old) tried hard not to bump the scope. They both saw through the telescope, which is a big improvement over previous years. (I'm not complaining, though I would've at the time; they weren't ready for that, and I didn't realize that.) It was neat, but probaby not a wonder for them.
We looked at Mars, and that was just a red dot. But I told them that this was where Curiosity was, and I hope that made it interesting.
I pointed it at the moon. The 30x eyepiece framed it nicely, gave them lots of time to look before it drifted out of site. They saw craters, maria, the terminator.
I told them about Neil Armstrong: how he was the first to walk on the moon; how he'd died today; how his family had asked that we wink at the moon. "Why should we?" asked my younger; I think he was confused about the whole thing. "Because his family thought it was something he'd like." "I can only wink two eyes." "That's okay."
"Have you ever seen someone die?" asked my older. "No," I said.
I had a map of the moon. One at a time, I showed them Mare Crisium; hopped from there to Mare Fecundidatis and Mare Nectaris, like two claws on a lobster; and Mare Tranquilitatis, joining the two like the base of the claw. "See up there, right where it goes up to the right? That's where they landed. No, there's not much to see, but that's where it happened." And then we looked up at the moon, counted to three, and winked (or blinked). Goodnight, Mister Armstrong.