Obscene Astronomy and Street-Smart Stargazing

In praise of street-smart stargazing and the four-letter exclamation point

| September-October, 2009

  • Punk Astronomy

    image by NASA / courtesy of nasaimages.org

  • Punk Astronomy

Last autumn I set up my telescope across the street from Trotta’s Castle Lounge in Geneva, New York. I aimed the telescope at the gibbous (three-quarters) moon hanging over city hall. Two guys were smoking outside the bar, and one of them called out to me.

“Dude, can you see my balls in there?”

“No, a telescope is for big things that are far away, not tiny things close up. That’s a microscope you’re thinking of.”

I didn’t really reply that way, even if it was the best of several retorts I worked out about two hours later. What I did say, I said out of a total lack of talent for witty repartee but also a transparent honesty.

“No, I’m looking at mountains on the moon. Wanna see?”

The guy blinked several times, and then his friend said “sure,” shrugged, and crossed the street, leaving ball-dude looking more than a little foolish.

8/25/2009 2:00:25 PM

Good for the sidewalk astronomers. So few people get to experience an unrestricted view of the night sky, in real darkness, with someone who knows even the names of constellations and individual stars. This is knowledge becoming lost, and with it, a lost sense of who we are. Yet, as you say, it is up there every night, a half of our lives.

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