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Holding Hands With Galileo

By Kay Ferrari
Solar System Ambassador Coordinator

Black and white image of Galileo's journal with sketches of Jupiter and its moons.
Galileo Galilei made these sketches after discovering four moons orbiting Jupiter in January 1610.

About ten years ago, I attended a star party scheduled around the appearance of a comet that was to be visible from Earth. The comet, whose name I can't remember, proved to be a dud - nothing more than the appearance of a thin wispy cloud against the night sky.

Rather than face the chill of the night much longer, people began leaving almost as quickly as they arrived. A few others and I stayed, determined to see something for our effort.

As the host began turning his telescopes to different objects in the sky, the remaining few hardy souls crowded around, eager to see the magnificence of a spiral galaxy or luminescence of a nebula.

Off to one side sat the 30-power binoculars, alone - passed over in favor of it's higher-powered cousins. Having only had experience with my father's field binoculars, I decided to go over and take a look. What could one see of the night sky with just a pair of binoculars? I intended to find out.

Jupiter and its moons as four bright spots.
Jupiter and the Galilean moons through binoculars.

My expectations were low; but what I found was astonishing. In the center of my field of view was Jupiter...and the Galilean satellites, floating gracefully before a background of darkness.

I was so caught up in what I was observing that I failed to hear my host walk up quietly behind me -- until he whispered in my ear, "That's how Galileo saw Jupiter."

I gasped and immediately felt the cold moistness of the night air fill my lungs. In that transcendent moment with Jupiter before me, I felt the centuries melt away. It was as though Galileo and I were standing side by side, looking up at the sky, holding hands across time.

It was one of those moments that is so rare in life, to truly understand the experience of another, especially one who lived so long ago. Now, it is a memory, but one that I relive every time I share it with others, and one that I will cherish for as long as I am privileged to walk this planet.

Last Updated: 2 February 2011

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Last Updated: 2 Feb 2011