My Birthday Present

I’ve put aspects of myself into characters before. Jig’s nearsightedness and his trouble getting picked on by the bigger goblins. Danielle’s interactions with her son. Hephyra’s relationship with her three-legged cat.

Until now, I’ve never had it work the other way.

Isaac, from Libriomancer, is a SF/F geek. Like many of us, he’s fascinated by space travel and the planets and so on. He has an autographed space shuttle print in his office. While it’s not in the first book, he most certainly owns his own telescope or three, and has spent many a clear night in the U.P. staring up at the planets and the stars.

A month or so back, I decided that sounded pretty darn cool. This past weekend, I received my early birthday present from my parents, my in-laws, and my wife: an Orion 8″ Dobsonian telescope.

The last time I looked through a telescope was over a decade ago, at a friend’s place in Nevada. Before that, I remember a school trip to Paris … we went up to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night, and I used the viewing binoculars up top to look at the moon. It was amazing.

Naturally, it was raining the day my birthday present arrived (several weeks early, but I’m not complaining!) I used that night to assemble the base and get it all put together. I adjusted a mirror to get it focused. And then … I waited.

Saturday was cloudy and rainy as well. By now I was ready to jump out of my skin. Like many geeks and fans, I tend to obsess, and I’d been looking forward to trying this sucker out for weeks.

Then it was Sunday … and the skies were clear. Some clouds rolled in during the afternoon, but they were gone by evening. I paced through the living room as the sun slowly disappeared, and I kept peeking out the window to see if the stars were visible yet. The moment I spotted the moon in the west, quickly dipping into the trees, I was out of the house and setting up.

I’m a total newbie at this. I’ve downloaded an app for the phone to tell me what I’m looking at. (A week ago I pointed out Mars, Venus, and Jupiter to some friends after karate). But even as a newbie, this was amazing.

I saw Jupiter well enough to make out a few of the horizontal bands across the planet, along with three of its moons.

I don’t have any of the equipment for proper astrophotography, but I’ve got a digital camera and my iPhone. I was surprised to find that the iPhone took slightly better pictures in this situation. The pic to the left is Jupiter and two of its moons, photographed by simply placing the phone against the eyepiece.

I also saw Venus, which was about half full.

I spun the scope around and saw Mars.

And oh yes, even though it was behind the upper branches of the trees, I saw the moon. The craters, the shadows … it was incredible.

I brought the kids out and showed them everything I could find. This was right in our driveway, with a streetlamp across the street and the lights of Lansing not too far off. I’m planning to bring the scope up north when we do our annual vacation trip to the Upper Peninsula this summer, and I can’t wait to see what we can find up at camp, away from … well, just about everything.

I’ll leave you with the best of the iPhone pics of the moon. The trees cut off the lower right corner, and it’s a little blurry, and it’s certainly not professional quality, but I don’t care. I’m geeking out, and I love it.