Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Spaced Out

I've been in Sydney for so long now that I think I've nearly wrung every last drip out of the tourist sponge. A couple of things remain though and yesterday I ticked off another: Sydney Observatory.

With a clear night sky and 6 interested people, we made our way over to the Observatory perched high above the city in an area called The Rocks. Hosting the evening was Xin, a twentysomething stunner of Chinese descent with a postgrad in astronomy. I nearly proposed on the spot.

After being ushered into a 3D theatre for a rather amateurish film complete with Bontempi Organ demo music, the evening really took off. We made our way on to the lawn where Xin had a kick-ass laser pointer which she fired miles into the sky, ringing constellations and dotting planets. I want one. You could have probably blinded an astronaut on the International Space Station with it.

After craning our necks to see constellations unique to the Southern Hemisphere (Southern Cross and The Teapot) we made our way into the Dome and to the actual telescope. It was about the size of two dustbins and aligned with a letterbox slit pointed out into the night sky. Xin invited the crowd to begin queueing to peer down the eyepiece at Jupiter.

At this point it dawned on me that I was actually going to see Jupiter. Not a photograph. Not a computer generated image. Not an artist's impression. Ashamedly, I started elbowing little kids out of the way to get a glimpse - well they were bigger than me anyway.

And then there it was : Jupiter - a sandy disk about as big as a 10p coin streaked with what looked like strawberry jam. It managed to be awe-inspiring and slightly underwhelming at the same time. Awe-inspiring in that I was looking at a planet billions of miles away. Underwhelming in that it looked a bit like someone had stuck a small sticker on the end of the lens.

Course, you can't take people anywhere, and it wasn't long before Chris had suggested we ask her to point the telescope at Vulcan. Or the Death Star. This was followed by Franc whispering in my ear "Say to her: can I see Uranus, please?".

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