All nights should be like this.
We’re in Northern France. Very rural, very little light pollution. But there is starlight. If you sit and wait they keep appearing, filling the sky like snowflakes in a blizzard.
The telescope is out. Nothing special, a hundred quid from eBay five years ago. Six inch reflector. For the moon, it’s perfect. Not yet managed to see a galaxy. But tonight there is one bright spot in the sky. The eleven year old boy at my side shivers. “But it must be a star, it’s shining.”
We talk about the sun and how we see the moon, how it reflects the light. Then we talk about Jupiter. We know this spot of light is Jupiter because the app says it is. We also know it’s about six hundred million kilometres away from us. We talk about how far that is, about how long the light takes to get from the Sun to Jupiter then back to us. It’s about an hour. Roughly. We talk about how long the light takes to get from the stars to Earth. And we talk about the size of the universe. We try and talk about what was there before the Big Bang, but we don’t really have the words for that.
And then we look in the telescope.
There is a power in seeing that cannot be described.
To see the moons of Jupiter ranged across the sky as Galileo would have done connects across time and space to the genius and courage of the man. The giant. This is what he did. Over many nights. Without computers, without apps. Without Ebay. He, and Copernicus, and Kepler and others laid the foundation stones for our civilisation. A civilisation based on knowledge and reason. They observed what happened, they theorised why it happened, they tested their theories with further observation. Then they had the courage to say what they thought.
When Galileo said “Eppur si muove” he was talking about the Earth. Having been forced, under threat of death to recant his view that the Earth moved around the Sun he said “And yet it moves.”
It has another meaning.
I urge you. Go on to eBay and get that telescope. Or borrow one. Or makes friends with someone who has one. Or encourage your school to buy one. Go outside on a cold night and look up to the sky. See what Galileo saw.
If you haven’t got an eleven year old, look for the one inside you.
You’ll be moved.