Wednesday, January 28, 2004

As it nearly always does, our winter funk has gone crystalline in the morning predawn sky. The mental cold of deep fog has vanished into the now brisk and enervating elegance of the dark sky between the stars. It is a wonder to me that I am happier in 20 degree lower temperatures, but I have decided that it's because I have things to look at, now. The gray sky closes in on you sometimes. It takes longer hikes and more vigorous explorations to keep the mind awake, in those times.

This morning I saw Jupiter hanging in the West above the sandstone cliffs across from our house. It is a rare moment when the eastern sky brightens enough to hide the lesser deities overhead while presenting the "star father" in glory. It is like those old medieval scenes in which no mans head can be higher than the king's. We got one bright and shiny object in the sky and it's a whopper.

I first started seriously looking up after I bought a spotting scope to watch eagles. One evening I turned it up to Orion and got infected with looking up. How can a gas cloud be so beautiful,, and costly? This moment of awe led to all kinds of expenditures on optics and there is a wonderful telescope downstairs that is just too big to haul outside on most occasions. I now have binoculars that serve me well on short notice. My favorite pair is ten power, light weight, and pocket sized. They go with me on most trips. This morning several of us looked through them at the little diamond specks that are the Gallilean moons of Jupiter.

Saturn is by far the most beautiful object in near space. The photographs from Hubble blow me away, but nothing will prepare you for the experience of personally seeing Saturn through an adequate telescope. It is an unworldly experience in the most precise sense of the phrase, and yet it doesn't reach the level of one's first view of Jupiter, which looks like a solar system all its own. Jupiter is obviously alien and obviously "just like us", at the same time. Its moons are little planets when seen through a couple of hundred bucks worth of modern optics.

Gallileo first described the four largest moons of Jupiter. He proposed very imaginative names for these four moons. The names were "One", "Two", Three", and "Four". This actually would have worked very well since we are still, to this day, discovering new moons of Jupiter. The last count I have is 61 of the things. I am sure there are more to be found. Every rock that floats by our solar system falls under the influence of Jovian gravity. A few years back we all got to watch Jupiter eat a comet and not so much as burp, in the planetary sense. Another name for Jupiter is Jove from whence we get joviality. Jupiter is the "Bringer of Jollity" and eats comets. This morning I ate eggs and checked the Jovian moons as they circled. You can watch them orbit Jupiter because, it is so big, the moons have to be really fast to keep from being eaten themselves.

A couple of thousand years ago, some folks told other folks that Jupiter was a God. They said God Jupiter had quite the libido and liked to "mess around". This led to another suggestion for the names of the Gallilean moons. Here is an excerpt from Johannes Kepler:

Jupiter is much blamed by the poets on account of his irregular loves. Three maidens are especially mentioned as having been clandestinely courted by Jupiter with success. Io, daughter of the River, Inachus, Callisto of Lycaon, Europa of Agenor. Then there was Ganymede, the handsome son of King Tros, whom Jupiter, having taken the form of an eagle, transported to heaven on his back, as poets fabulously tell . . . . I think, therefore, that I shall not have done amiss if the First is called by me Io, the Second Europa, the Third, on account of its majesty of light, Ganymede, the Fourth Callisto . . . .

Is there a better phrase for this day than "Irregular Loves"? That is much better than one, two, three, and four!



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