Cartoonist Lucy Bellwood made me this pin, based on something I like to tweet on bad days. Turns out last night we had a near hit! Asteroid 2019 OK (what a hilarious name) missed us by 45,000 miles. Oh well. There’ll be another one.
I found this in my six-year-old’s (abandoned) diary.
If you’re reading this, the sun has not died yet.
And that’s not nothing!
My friend was at a Cleveland Browns game and a wife turned to her husband and said, “Did you see that??”
“I seen it!” the husband said. “I seen it WITH MY OWN EYES!”
That’s how I felt last night when I caught my first glimpse of Saturn’s rings through my birthday present. So good.
The organizers of Asteroid Day want humanity to band together to create better asteroid-tracking technology, but I relish it mostly as a chance to reckon, for at least one day of the year, with my own feelings of terror and awe. An asteroid is a caricature of everything I fear but cannot control. And Asteroid Day gives me permission to indulge this spectacle of imagined global catastrophe. It is a day for a collective heave of what if. What if humanity was obliterated by a conspiracy between a giant rock, gravity and random chance? What if, instead of climate change or nuclear winter, we were delivered that deus ex machina?
Unlike the typical Hollywood CGI depictions of asteroid impacts, where an extraterrestrial charcoal briquette gently smolders across the sky, in the Yucatan it would have been a pleasant day one second and the world was already over by the next. As the asteroid collided with the earth, in the sky above it where there should have been air, the rock had punched a hole of outer space vacuum in the atmosphere. As the heavens rushed in to close this hole, enormous volumes of earth were expelled into orbit and beyond — all within a second or two of impact.
“So there’s probably little bits of dinosaur bone up on the moon,” I asked.
Above: A poem from my book, Newspaper Blackout
A reader wrote in to tell me my pictures of the moon through my new telescope were beautiful and all, but the moon was upside down. Indeed! When you look through a Dobsonian telescope the image you see is upside down because the mirror in the bottom is curved, as is explained in this video, with a kitchen spoon, some sticks, and a piece of foam:
I didn’t bother altering the image of the moon in the post, because I wanted to show it as it looked through my viewfinder.
I’m reminded of Betty Edwards’ book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which includes an exercise that asks the drawer to draw something upside down:
Familiar things do not look the same upside down. We automatically assign a top, bottom, and sides to the things we perceive, and we expect to see things oriented in the usual way – that is, the right side up. For, in upright orientation, we can recognize familiar things, name them, and categorize them by matching what we see with our stored memories and concepts.
When an image is upside down, the visual cues don’t match. The message is strange, and the brain becomes confused.
What you do, when you turn something upside down, is make it strange — when your brain doesn’t know exactly what it is that you’re looking at, you start to really look at the thing and see it with “fresh” eyes.
(A fabulous read on art and optics is David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge.)
As Paul Valéry put it (paraphrased for the title of Weschler’s book on artist Robert Irwin): “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.”
My wife got me a legit Dobsonian telescope for my birthday, but, as they say, you buy a new telescope you also buy a week of rain. Saturday night it was finally clear enough for a few hours around sunset to try it out on the waxing gibbous.
After mistakenly trying to use both the 1.5″ and 2″ eyepiece adapters, we got it set up and it was so, so cool. I felt giddy looking at the moon in such detail.
Then, maybe even cooler, we put the 10mm eyepiece on and pointed it at Jupiter — holy moly. We could see the bands and even 3 of the moons. (Took me back to my freshman year of college, trying to prove Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.) What a wonderful way to spend a summer evening.
Back in December, I wrote about how Jerry Seinfeld maintained perspective by keeping a photo from the Hubble telescope in the Seinfeld writing room. This week I got an email from the spouse of a professional astronomer who said her husband gets through some work days by reminding himself that astronomy doesn’t matter. “He will say, for example: ‘It’s just astronomy. We’re not saving lives here. It’s okay if we finish this tomorrow instead of today.’” I loved that.
Jerry Seinfeld kept photos from the Hubble Space Telescope up on the wall in the Seinfeld writing room. “It would calm me when I would start to think that what I was doing was important,” he told Judd Apatow, in Sick in the Head. “You look at some pictures from the Hubble Telescope and you snap out of it.” When Apatow said that sounded depressing, Seinfeld replied, “People always say it makes them feel insignificant, but I don’t find being insignificant depressing. I find it uplifting.”
This is one of the reasons I look at the moon.
With fall arriving, finally, the almost-five-year-old has become interested in the seasons. I ordered Gail Gibbons’ The Reasons For Seasons, and we made paper planet balls and talked how the Earth tilts on its axis, and then, some magic happened: I realized I had no freaking idea which direction the Earth spins! No idea at all. But I didn’t pull out my phone. I sat there with the ball and thought about the sun rising in the east, setting in the west, and I figured it out, along with a few other things. It feels so amazing, as a grown adult, to teach yourself something just using your sense and your senses.
Once again, by helping him learn, I myself am learning how to learn.
The two-year-old banged on the front door and shouted “Moon!” this morning, so, as we do, we went out to take a look. Crescent, waxing, almost new. It resembled all the wonderful photos people had taken of the crescent-shaped shadows that the partial eclipse cast earlier this year:
Full moons have their charms, but I am drawn towards the phases in between them, just as I am drawn, or even biased towards, art that exists only in part, art that is in-progress or unfinished, cut-up or fragmentary, incomplete or imperfect…
I am partial to the partial.
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