I was maybe eight years old when I first looked a Jupiter through a telescope. My father had this spyglass, the kind that fits neatly into a small leather pouch and then you pull it out so it’s as long as your arm. At maximum setting, it had a whopping 20 power magnification. Great for use in the mountains, not so great for looking at objects half way across the solar system.
We’d gone to the movies at the drive in and seen The War Lover with Steve McQueen. We didn’t get home till late. It was a star-filled sky, and Jupiter was a dazzling point of light in the Eastern sky.
I didn’t even know what it was. To me, it wasn’t a world in it’s own right, but just a bright star.
Dad asked if I wanted to look at it through the spyglass.
Of course I did.
He went in and got the telescope, and extended it out. Using a fence post to brace himself, he peered through it towards the distant planet. Then he handed it over.
“Brace your hand against the post like I did,” he said, “and point it towards it.”
I did, and looked through it. Nothing
I moved the scope around a little and this bright disk shot across it. I tracked back towards it, and my eyes went wide. For the first time, when I looked up to the heavens to behold something incredible, I had my breath taken away.
Right smack in the middle of the field of view was this bright white disk. A dusky band ran across the middle of it.
And off to either side of it were four star-like objects.
“What are those stars by it?” I asked.
“Those are some of Jupiter’s moons.”
With a simple sentence, my universe exploded in size. Across space there was a giant world with moons not unlike our own. I wanted to know what was out there.
I was hooked on the heavens.
Years later when I got my first telescope, Jupiter was the first object I turned it towards.
When I worked at the observatory, if Jupiter was in the heavens, I always took a peek.
To this day, I still turn my telescope towards it.
Despite more than a half dozen space probes that have gone out that way, and the pictures returned, none of the mystery of that giant world and its moons has lessened. It’s simply more incredible than I ever imagined.
And it still beckons to me after all these years.