“Free Moon Trips!”

THERE MAY BE NO QUICKER way to evoke reverent awe than by looking through a telescope at the night’s rich bounty.

I was 13 when I first trained a small refractor, a gift from my parents, on the planet Saturn. My jaw literally dropped when I saw that yellow disk floating in a golden ring. Just like the photos, I thought, only it’s REAL!

It is that reality, of actually seeing the moon and planets, which brings with it those tingling fingers of Wow running through our brains. It’s not necessarily a “religious” experience. But focusing on the vasty star-deep can be deeply spiritual. It’s also addictive and contagious.

I have a hand-lettered sign that I like to stand against my telescope when we’re out on the sidewalk grooving on our lunar neighbor. It says “Free Moon Trips!” and when passersby stop to ask what it means, I offer them a look at the moon through a 50x (or 100x) perspective; it’s big enough to see craters and mountains. Without exception, everyone of every age who puts eye to eyepiece exclaims in various degrees of wondrous rapture. “Is that real?” one elderly gentleman asked me. “Real as rain,” I replied. “Thank you,” he said. “Really — thank you.”

We seem to live in an era of cheap thrills and easy ennui, where each new film franchise or videogame tries to outdo the others to create in the viewer a sense of vicarious amazement. But none of it can compare to seeing something really amazing (and amazingly real!) for yourself. The cosmos is just within eyeshot — come take a look.

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