Why Saturn?

Well, it’s because of Dan. On the night of my PhD comprehensive examination exhibition reception [May 19, 2010], Dan Falk, science journalist and fellow Toronto Scrabble in the City Scrabbler, noted that on Wednesday night the Petrie Science observatory at York University has free drop-ins. So we cleaned up and a few of us [I think it was Dan, Rob Cruikshank, Julieta Maria, and Dave Kemp] headed over.

I love my geek/nerd photo loving friends.

I wasn’t particularly taken by the moon, or by the nebula that required averted vision. But Saturn took my breath away, brought me to tears. I couldn’t believe how stunning it was – it looked like a schematic drawing. Pure white against the dark universe, with a slightly offset line bisecting the squat sphere. That experience made concrete for me how real is the universe. Saturn was right there, I saw it with my own eyes, it was so very far away, yet so close considering the incomprehensible scale of the universe.

I went back with a camera the following week but by the time the public had seen enough that I could attach the camera to the telescope, Saturn was too low in the sky and the graduate students were ready to go home for the evening: I didn’t manage to get a shot.

I developed a vague sense that this would become a project, and concluded my job talk at the University of Regina almost a year later with the idea that what’s next likely has something to do with the universe. Within one week of arriving in Regina I visited the local observatory [see the blog entry RASC Beginnings] and captured my first image of the planet via projection imaging. And so I spent fall 2011 writing the SSHRC Insight Development Grant that I hope will help fund the project [see the blog entry on Research/Creation and Astro-Amateurism].

So this is why Saturn. I feel connected with all the other cosmos-lovers whose first telescopic view was this beautiful planet – and it seems to be the best bait. I feel connected with Galileo, who was the first to look at Saturn through a telescope [even though he couldn’t quite make sense of what he was seeing]. So I guess I’m about to get a 1000mm lens and have to lug photo gear around after all these years trying to avoid such muscular pursuits…..

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