This is the third in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.
I remember getting a telescope for Christmas when I was a kid. It was little more than a toy – a red cylinder about 18″ long and 2″ in diameter with low magnification. It was fine for was looking at the moon, though not much else. I wasn’t going to be seeing Saturn’s rings through the viewfinder. But it sparked my fascination with space.
Fast-forward 35 years or so, and I recently got another telescope for Christmas. This one is a little more powerful. Now I can see Saturn’s rings along with distant galaxies and nebulae. So, recently, I have been spending evenings looking at the night sky once again.
We’re all familiar with the wonderfully detailed images of distant galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Well, what I see through my telescope isn’t anything like that. Galaxies look like fuzzy grey smudges, that’s all. No spiral arms or rich colours. Just a faint blur in the night sky.
So, if the view is unspectacular, why bother?
Because, for me, seeing a visual spectacle—nice as that would be—is not the point. Astronomy’s power lies in how it gives you a sense of the universe’s scale. How unfathomably vast it is and how small we are in comparison. How we live for only an instant—far less than the thousands of years it takes for the light from the galaxies I can see to reach us.
It is staggering to think about.
Being outside, alone at night, observing the depths of space is meditative. It has a timeless quality that gives me a sense of clarity, peace, and perspective.
Opportunities for quiet contemplation can be elusive in our always-on world. But if you need to find some time and space, take some time to marvel at space—it’s all around you.