The Christmas Star

by Ron

Tonight, I saw the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn through my 6” Newtonian reflector telescope. This was quite a thrill for me. It has been over 20 years since I’ve looked through that telescope. On Saturday I took it from storage and began to clean it up for the event. Having had astronomy as a hobby in the past, but with too many other things pushing it aside, it took a once in an 800 year event – a Christmas Star – to have me look again to the sky for longer than what had become my typical quick glance.

On Sunday evening I pointed my “stethoscope” (as Matthew has been calling it) to a bright star above me, in a patch of sky without clouds. But I couldn’t seem to bring it into focus. Perhaps my instrument has seen too many years. I put it together when I was a young teen. And though I had rebuilt the shell decades later, the primary parts may not have it in them anymore. Was there something I was overlooking? Perhaps it was the eyepiece. I took it apart and reassembled it. I must have done something to improve it, because the stars were a bit closer to the pinpoint look that they should have, but not enough. My hope of renewing my stargazing hobby was fading fast.

And then I had a thought. Is it possible that temperature was giving the optics some trouble? My reasoning: The mirror is mostly glass. As a slow-moving liquid with the ability to expand and contract, it isn’t adapting quickly to being at 70 degrees and suddenly hit with below freezing temperature. Could that be it? I searched and found “Troubleshooting a Blurry Telescope: Top 6 Fixes.” Last on the list: “Trying to focus before temperature equilibrium.” Perhaps that is it.

How long would it take before I would know if this is the solution. “The actual time is directly related to the mass of the lens or mirror, and the difference in ambient temperature. The larger telescopes, like 6” or 8” and above, can take an hour or two to equalize.”

The “trauma” of being hit with such a sudden change results in a lack of clarity. That thought got my wheels turning. 2020. How many suggested have suggested that the name of this year would be the perfect time for greater vision or a year to bring things into focus. The year has been anything but that.

Unlike a circular piece of pyrex glass, human beings don’t find equilibrium in a few hours after being traumatized. For some of us it may be long after 2020 that we begin to see clearly again.

In our book “Joy in a Foreign Land,” we express how difficult it was to adapt to the unfamiliar and undesired land of disability in which we found ourselves. This year has been like that for us – for too many reasons for me to mention here.

But seeing a Christmas “Star” clearly was exciting to me, not only because of the joy that the old scope of nearly 50 years ago still works (and yes, I could still see the rings of Saturn and the four prominent moons of Jupiter), but also because of the reminder that things will become clearer. “We will understand it better by and by.” There is purpose. There is hope. And what better time for the reminder than the week of Christmas?

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