Exploring the Stars
Updated: Jun 28, 2019
The Horsehead Nebula located in the Orion Constellation remains my favorite celestial object. The earliest available photograph revealed a regal silhouette of a horses head, intriguing and mystical. The photos released in 2013 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) suggest amazing depth and startling breathtaking details.
My second favorite phenomena is the Orion Constellation. Ironically, the Horsehead Nebula sits on Orion's hip, where the three tight stars form his belt. Orion strikes a swaggering pose on the celestial equator, from which he commands the attention of stargazers around the globe. With his broad shoulders, trim three-starred waistline, tilted pelvis, and loping gait, he races across the evening sky. Even in the brightest full moon, Orion remains a strong caricature in the sky. During early morning walks with my Casco Bay retriever (i.e., my pound puppy mutt named Ginger), I always cast my gaze skyward to see if Orion is visible in the northern hemisphere, joined by his own canine companions Canis Major and Canis Minor.
The very action of looking to the sky leads to memories of my dad, an avid stargazer and serious amateur astronomer. So much did Dad enjoy his stars and planets that he built his own telescope from which to gaze. For as long as I can remember, the six foot long telescope sat in our backyard, ready for the next eager set of eyes. I recall running my hand down its length and peering in both ends, appreciating Dad’s triumph and believing that he could build, or do, anything. Although as an adult I know this is not true, in my heart I still hold this belief near and dear.
In 1972, my father wrote an editorial published in Sky & Telescope Magazine, describing his success in building an “old-fashioned” 6-inch telescope. In the adjoining photo, any snippet of the text emphasizes the fact that no matter how many times I read the article, I still don’t understand the engineering behind it. For example: "A 1-1/2" pipe was machined down for the polar axle, and a 1-1/4" for the declination axle." It goes on to reference "pressed-brass bearing surfaces" and "standard pipe tees". No wonder I never became an Engineer.
Ask my siblings what they remember about Dad when we were little, and most likely they will say “I remember him getting us up at two in the morning to see a meteor shower”. Or the rings of Saturn. Or a comet at midnight, or a lunar eclipse at 3 a.m. Or a road trip to Prince Edward Island to see the full solar eclipse. Our recollections are vivid, voices full of nostalgia and longing. Memories abound of abandoned slumber, replaced by amazement as we stand pajama clad in the backyard to watch some astronomical wonder unfold. The very act of stargazing, of looking up at the sky forces our jaws to drop. I often wonder if this is by design, forcing us to stand in awe when casting our gaze to the magnificent sky?
Because the constellation can be seen in both the northern and southern hemispheres, Orion evokes rich imaginative symbolism in cultures across time and around the world. From China to Scandinavia, from Australia to America, from the ancient Aztec people to the Egyptian Pharaohs, he is as prominent in our collective folklore as he is in the night sky. What he symbolizes for me is an unending journey as we pass through life, with each day representing an opportunity for new adventure. May he always be there urging us on, urging our children forward, urging future generations to seek beyond their narrow field of vision to see what's just over the horizon.
- Originally published 9 January 2013, originally written many years earlier as a birthday gift for my father ... here are the comments from the original blog article, many from my siblings (Terese, Chet, Kathy and Kris)!