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A galaxy from the inside

Sometimes it’s the simplest thoughts that have the most profound effect on your visitors to the telescope.

This past weekend we spent two clear dark nights in Mojave National Preserve sharing our big telescopes with about fifty park visitors and the MNP Conservation Association.

This time of year, the sky is full of galaxies. We were showing spirals, ellipticals, irregulars, edge-on, face-on, every which way. All along I would explain how these are galaxies like the Milky Way that we live in.

Me and my 14.5" Litebox dob at Mojave National Preserve

Photo by Gary Spiers

Now these were mostly people who had ventured into the wilderness before, and they were familiar with the Milky Way. At least they thought they were. They knew the milky river of light crossing the sky on late summer evenings.

At least one visitor could not make the connection.

At one point I said, “We will never see our galaxy from the outside.”

The dark around the telescope was almost lit by the light bulb going on in someone’s head. I heard, “OH! We’re inside it! We only see it from the inside!”

I was rewarded with a “thank you” and “That was a profound thought.”

It reminded me of a question I’d had some twenty years earlier from my mother at one of my early experiences in Yosemite at a Glacier Point star party.

Mom was looking up at a starry sky and asked, “So of these stars we see, how many of them are in our galaxy?” Of course, the answer is obvious (all of them), but it doesn’t diminish the simple profound nature of the question, and I still enjoy relating the story and asking the question to visitors under a dark starry sky.

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