Something that has captivated the attention of humans (probably ever since the model came out) is the Moon. It’s something that dominates our sky, our lives, and most of us take it completely for granted. It goes through its phases. It causes tides. And it inspires lovers and madmen alike.
One of my favorite memories of the Moon was during my years at Adams State College. I’d been up studying all night, and decided to go for a walk across campus. I seemed to always end up at the Zacheis Planetarium. It was only logical, as I worked there and had the keys. At the time we had a small observatory connected to the main building by a catwalk, and we had a 12 inch telescope.
So, I let myself in, uncovered the telescope, and chose a low powered eyepiece from the storage room.
There were two objects in the early morning sky that had caught my attention. One was Venus. Venus is normally nothing more than a bright star to the naked eye. Through the telescope it’s dazzling. Trouble is, there isn’t much to see on Venus. Covered from pole to pole with clouds, it’s nothing more than a featureless canvas. But even that canvas changes. Venus orbits between us and the sun, and it moves faster in its orbit about the sun than the Earth. From week to week, it can be seen to go through phases, just like our Moon.
One week it’s a featureless disk. But as its orbit carries it closer to the Earth, over the course of weeks and months, it becomes a dazzling crescent before being lost in the sunlight.
And speaking of crescents, the Moon hovered not far away from Venus in the morning sky. With the naked eye, I could see the the lit portion, then the rest of the Moon as a dark blue bulk. I swung the telescope around, fiddled with the controls to bring the Moon into view, and held my breath.
The Moon was hours away from its “new moon” phase. That meant it was coming between us and the Sun. The still hidden sun illuminated the lit crescent, and that part was so bright that very few features were visible on it.
What caused my breath to catch was the “darkened side.” The Moon keeps the same face towards us always, so what I was seeing was the side of the Moon we always see. Notice I used the word “seeing.” I just wasn’t getting any sunlight. But even the darkened portion of the Moon was awash with a blue white radiance. I could clearly make out the major craters and seas in that light.
Across the gulf of space, our little planet caught the light of the sun. Most of the light gets reflected back in space. A quarter of a million miles away, the Moon caught part of that reflected light from the Earth, and flashed it back to me.
I stared at the Moon, unable to look away from the sheer rugged beauty. It was like looking at some magnificent painting, arranged and hung just for me. I don’t know how long I stood bent over the eyepiece. Slowly I began to realize I hadn’t taken a breath in some time. It felt like eternity before I ruined the moment by sucking in air.
I’ve taken you followers on tours of the San Luis Valley. I’ve taken you on tours of police tactics and weapons. We’ve walked the battlefield. I’ve introduced you to the bad guys and girls in my novels, and who haunted the Valley. I will continue to do that.
But, in the days and weeks to come, we’ll tour the heavens starting with the Moon and working out. To my central character, Will Diaz, they’re a source of infinite fascination and comfort.
It’s the same for me.