Jay Eads, an educator who lives in Kearns, started the conversation. In a UtahAstronomy email discussion group posting headed “magic moments,” he told about an experience he had Wednesday night. He had set up his telescope in the backyard.
“I came out and as night came on about 8:30 p.m., I began to look for the planetary nebula NGC 2371/2 in Gemini. I was able to locate it rather easily and spent the next forty five minutes or so, observing, logging details and sketching it.” Then a knock came from the inside of the back door, a signal his wife and children have to tell him they are coming outside, so that he can look away from the light and not have his night vision ruined when the door opens. His 16-year-old daughter, Kendra, came out.
He was finishing a sketch of the planetary and Kendra was identifying a couple of constellations that she knows. “She suddenly started asking me questions. … She saw a ‘fuzzy’ in the sky and asked what it was. I replied that she should go get one of my binoculars and look. She did and then she described to me that the fuzzy was made up of many stars, with the brightest making up a dipper shape.”
She asked the name and he told her it was the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. “Afterwards she said she’d call it the Seven Sisters.” He had finished observing the nebula by then, and pointed the scope to the Pleiades cluster for her.
“Next she learned a new constellation, Canis Major, and took the binoculars and started scanning around. She found another fuzzy and asked what it was. I put the scope on M41 [an open cluster of stars] and she was simply amazed. This was her first open cluster along with the Sisters and in both cases it was a thrill to be around her excitement. I next pointed out the Tao Cluster which also blew her away.
“We visited Saturn next,” and tried without luck to glimpse galaxies. “As she put the binoculars back in their case, she gave her Dad a hug and said, ‘We have to do this again, it was fun. Not boring like I thought it would be.'”
Mike Wilson, who lives in West Valley City, responded, “It’s great when that happens.” (All quotes are copied with the authors’ permission.)
“My own experience with my daughter took place about 4 or 5 years ago when we were at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park which has dark skies similar to Bryce or Natural Bridges. Saturn has always impressed her and she was willing to get up with me at 4 a.m. just to view it. It just so happened that Orion with its fantastic nebula was also in the sky and we wheeled the scope over towards it. Neither of us had seen so much detail in the nebula as we saw that particular morning. As a result, whenever Orion is in the sky and I’m out in the backyard observing, she usually has to come out and view it. Unfortunately, it isn’t as impressive from the city as it was at Escalante Park.”
Wilson recalled the time he took his telescope to the Boy Scout Camp on the East Fork of the Bear River, helping the boys earn their Astronomy Merit Badge. “Even though the moon was almost full, the 10 boys that showed up had a great time looking at the various deep sky objects.”
The next Sunday, the boys from his LDS ward who were among the group told the congregation a little of what they had done during their week at the camp. “Every one of them mentioned that one of the highlights of their scouting experience was getting a chance to look through Brother Wilson’s telescope at the globular clusters (they actually remember what they were called).”
Jim Gibson said he has had similar experiences with his daughter, sons and grandchildren. “In fact my grandson, Stephen, just the other day said, ‘Hey ‘Grampa,’ when are we going to look at the stars and drink hot chocolate?”
I asked my astronomy mentor, NASA solar system ambassador to Utah Patrick Wiggins, if he recalled any such magic moments. He replied that it is “neat to have a scope set up at one of the many in-town star parties” where the ambient lighting is bright enough to see people’s faces. There, one is likely to see “some young person apprehensively approach, peer into the void and suddenly have their face light up as they see the rings of Saturn for the first time.
“Even better when they scurry happily away and later drag their parents or older siblings back with them insisting that they have a look at their discovery.”