Tag Archives: space

May daze

We spent a couple of days in New York’s Finger Lake region, where my youngest sibling (half-sister) graduated from college on a chilly, drizzly day.

The sky broke open as we drove home and made a quick detour into Niagara Falls, where Declan would only walk through the surprisingly lovely state park so long as we agreed to take a book on human anatomy and a little boxed solar system puzzle along with us. We clung to the road until midnight on Sunday, when our little boy officially became three years old, or, as he’s been telling me for weeks now, “not a baby anymore.”

Not wanting to spend too much of his birthday in the car, we subjected ourselves to federal inspection in Cleveland, which gave us a pass into a place that turned out to be the closest thing to heaven that Declan has experienced. (Thanks to Wendy for the tip.)

Oh, Hayden Planetarium, dear Air and Space Museum… you have no idea what you may do to my son’s mind, and I’m determined to bring him to you as soon as I can.

Sadly, we had no idea that the center had its big open house that weekend – not that we’d have been able to go – but I am disappointed that we weren’t able to connect him with any scientists – an adult who might appreciate how engaged he was in the place, with its model Hubble telescope and Mars rover and the pictures of galaxies and nebulae that he recognizes, the planets that he knows by surface, size and position. We watched a movie about the International Space station, where, he reminded me today, an astronaut mixed orange and red juice in zero-gravity drops.

We’ve arrived at a new place where his need for attention has grown immensely, and his thirst for knowledge, which has been intense, is even stronger. I try to make his life more varied than space, but space seems to help master everything else. Although he can’t read yet, he now recognizes the words “universe” and “astronomy” (and “NASA” of course). He mastered mouse skills in about an hour once I showed him the History Channel’s interactive universe, which he likes to visit daily, telling me “I need to work on the computer.” I tried to get him to play with a Trapelo puzzle with me last night, and once he decided that the designs could be like the “cracks of Europa,” he was ready to try. We’re still having issues with potty training, but when I’ve suggested that his poop will better resemble Proxima Centauri or The Pleiades in a toilet than his diaper, he seems to consider this seriously. (I am not joking at all.)

When he got overwhelmed and overtired in social situations this weekend, looking at space and human anatomy books balanced him. Once we start one, he insists on reading it thoroughly. We were able to sit through a long, rainy graduation ceremony with little incident, provided we could whisper about the billions of cells we have in our bodies, how eardrums work and what heartstrings actually are. We gave him a working stethoscope and a lion puppet for his birthday, so he pretended to tend to his furry patient in his car seat, and later checked our heartbeats.

And as intense as he can be, he’s still funny and fun, sing-song rhyming nonsense words to himself, dancing like a nut and flirting with girls.

We spend so much time in the mysteries of the micro-finite and the infinite here. I’m increasingly afraid about how little I know, how quickly I may lose the ability to engage him and increasingly impatient with people who know so little about astronomy and anatomy themselves, that they don’t know that his interests are more than a cute parlor trick.

My objective this summer is to find someone who he can talk to that loves and knows about at least one of the things that he does.

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New mantras from our mini professor

“Eat your colors today.”

I’m not sure if this taken from pro-fruit and veggie spots on Sesame Street or what. He’s been asking for foods on the basis of their color for a couple of weeks now, while also pointing out colors in accordance with the planets, such as “look at that blue Neptune car, mommy.”

“They go in and ouch.”

Said while giving a mini-lecture on the disappearance of Saturn’s rings, and something about asteroids.

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Wonderful epitaph

“Here lies Arthur C Clarke. He never grew up and did not stop growing.”

— From BBC News
. Apparently, this epitaph was the author’s request.

You can also watch him talk about the three wishes he had for humankind on the occasion of his 90th birthday here.

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Born in the bulge (or bull-dge)

“Mommy, I was born in the bulge of the Milky Way.”

Declan has been telling me this at random intervals for two or three months now.

Because human anatomy has become one of his secondary interests, after astronomy, he likes to snuggle up to my belly and talk about being born. And since he’s had a proclivity for saying things that make him seem like the great mystic baby from the distant planet of Zog for as long as he could speak, I chalked it up to some verbal conflation of bulging bellies and the latest galaxy wisdom from our bevy of space documentaries. (Oddly, as I was writing this, he was watching Unfolding Universe, his very first favorite space show, and we just took a computer-generated flight through the Milky Way’s “bulge” so there you have it.)

Yesterday, moment after waking, he thrust a book about constellations into my hands.

“We’re having a book about stars now,” he commanded.

I complied.

We got to Taurus, his birth sign, and he pointed at it between the eyes.

“I was born in the bulge,” he told me again. “See? It’s the bulge, where I belong.”

I used to think I knew where babies came from. I’m not so sure anymore.

And speaking of birthdays, happy 129th to the spirit of this person:

Also, to the considerably younger father of mine, as well as my dearest childhood friend, all born on this important (in my universe) day of the fishes.

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Lunar love

The snowy skies cooperated and cleared to crystal, so naturally, we spent much of evening admiring the lunar eclipse. We crunched down the icy street but soon found there was no better view than the one through the bare Black Locust branches from our back deck.

Dan’s cell phone rang over and over with friends calling to make sure that Declan wouldn’t miss the orange-red sight in the sky. Dec helped me stir hot chocolate on the stove while his dad hooted at and applauded the moon. I ladeled some of the warm mixture into Dec’s orange mug, and he sipped it as he stood on his stepstool, looking up at me. Then, in a moment that was both celestial and Beatles-esque, he said “this world is the one thing money can’t buy.”

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What we’re doing this morning

Orbiting the sun!
Orbiting the sun!
Orbiting the sun!

At least that’s the word from my younger counterpart, who chanted this while marching around the dining room table.

We might go to the library too.

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Across the Universe Day

Today at 7 p.m. EST, NASA is beaming the Beatles song “Across the Universe” toward Polaris, the North Star. Apparently, the moment is the exact time the song was recorded 40 years ago, and meant to be a “cheerier” greeting to aliens than the usual Morse code we routinely transmit into space. This event is also apparently part of NASA’s 50th anniversary celebration.

According to the Bad Astronomer, Polaris is far from the best star choice if the objective is to greet distant life forms, but it is one of the few stars that large numbers of humans know by name (outside of the sun).

Organizers are encouraging people to listen to the song at the same moment all around the world. There is more information about it here. The event will also be broadcast on NASA TV online.

For today, we’ve put the song at the top of our Cosmic playlist:

P.S. Declan doesn’t believe me that this is a Martian crater because it isn’t red.

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A nice day on Mars

For those of you who aren’t keeping up on space news, some neat stuff happened this week.

First, NASA’s space probe Messenger shot back images of planet Mercury that revealed a mysterious crater that scientists are calling “the spider.” I don’t know all of the details, but apparently Mercury and our moon aren’t as similar as once was thought. (I never realized how similar they were until my house became overrun with myriad cardboard and plastic planets – we’re always getting Mercury and the moon mixed up around here.)

And, pictured here is an image posted by The Planetary Society blog of a smiley-face crater on Mars. It was taken by a camera that’s cataloging the surface of the red planet in super high resolution from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Declan was already asleep when I found this post tonight. I can’t wait to show it to him in the morning. It looks like one of his drawings.

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A really big dream

I went to bed chilled with a fever last night. I took a little Tylenol, drank a lot of juice (I don’t do cold medicine) and crawled under a heap of blankets.

Then I dreamed that I became a cosmic string. I extended from the earth. I saw Heath Ledger on the way. I heard Eric Idle singing The Galaxy Song. I grew longer than the solar system, the Milky Way, past Andromeda and other galaxies. I became the length of the entire universe.

And as all of this was happening, I was thoroughly convinced that I was getting very important information that I had to bring back to share with Earth’s astrophysicists. The things I saw were going to change the world. I can’t remember the last time I had a dream that vivid, or was so thoroughly hoodwinked that everything about it was real.

I certainly never dreamed on this scale before. Thank you again, my son, for making me aware of how much of the universe I had been missing.

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