One Look at Saturn and I was Hooked for Life

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As we read a column each month, we learn a little bit about the writer.  Sometimes we would like to learn more, so this is the first of a series about the people who generously share their ideas and knowledge with us every month.  We start with John Crossen, Astronomy Educator and Stargazer columnist whose writing informs us while entertaining us.  In his traditional style, he writes about how he came to be a stargazer. KG

It was my 10th birthday party and my dad had invited a gentleman over from the local astronomy club to show my buds and I the marvels of Mars. We were brimming with questions about little green men and their invasion of Earth. As luck would have it, the skies were cloudy that night. So we had to settle for cake. Oh boo, hoo! But later on in the week it cleared and I was invited to join the club for their regular group outing.

Never had I seen telescopes so big! My measly little spotting scope was definitely the shrimp of the litter. But when one of the members showed me how to find Saturn with my “one-eyed wonder”, it was love at first sight. Saturn’s rings were tilted towards us and jumped out beautifully.

They were stunning and thankfully it didn’t take much power to see them. My little spotter maxed out at 45X.  Of course I checked the ringed thing out in some of the other scopes. All of which resulted in more bug-eyed blather.

What were the rings made of? How did they get there? Is Saturn really just clouds of gas? In 1954, nobody knew for sure. Today, thanks to Cassini, there’s no more mystery. But what about Mars and those fierce invaders with deadly ray guns?

Compared to Saturn the “Angry Red Planet” was a pretty calm feller. Through even the biggest scope there – a six inch reflector – Mars looked to be little more than a butterscotch-coloured pea. If you looked really hard you could just make out some dark patches. At the time some astronomers still believed the dark areas were vegetation which the Martians had dug cannels to for irrigation. But those were the dark ages of 1954.

Today we’ve landed on Mars, roved its rocks and orbited our red-faced neighbour countless times. We’ve sniffed its atmosphere, analyzed its soil and photographed the Martian landscape more often than an American tourist on his first cruise ship. In short, we know enough about Mars to fill a small library compared to the short chapter it earned in my 4th grade science book.

I owe a debt of gratitude to the Sunset Astronomy Club of Midland, Michigan for getting me started in a life-long hobby. For me it has been a joy to keep on learning – now into my 73rd year. I’ve owned an observatory, taught amateur astronomy classes and been a telescope consultant to a number of budding astro-holics.

I have been witness to numerous lunar eclipses, three partial solar eclipses (from Canada) countless planetary transits and six comets. But most important were, and are, the people I’ve met through astronomy. I’ve learned a lot from therm. Hopefully, I’ll be able to pass it along to the next generation of stargazers.

By John Crossen, Astronomy Educator and Stargazer columnist

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