Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Warmth of the Winter Sky

The night sky starts to get gorgeous in the fall: clearer, dryer air, less heat coming up, Orion starting to come. Winter sky is the best. You freeze, absolutely freeze, and see fifty gazillion stars, the Milky Way, all seven of the sisters.

Did a senior thesis in astrophysics in college. Went in winter to the school's telescope, in the middle of a state park, observing. No heat. Tracked U Geminorum stars, which have the amiable habit of blowing themselves up periodically. Had a professor with a quirky, wildly expansive manner and knowledge base. Sample conversation, as we're driving up there, after maybe five minutes' companionable silence:

'Wombat, in which of Beethoven's symphonies are the tympani tuned in octaves rather than fifths?'
'Er, uh,...'
'THE EIGHTH, Wombat, the eighth! Recall the third movement; that's where it's most obvious! And do you think it coincidence that OCTAVES appear in the EIGHTH?'
'Er, uh,...'
'I think not, Wombat. I THINK NOT!'

Good times...


Ruth said...

Actually, can't resist running out to look at the moon and stars, it's a good thing I don't have any neighbors close by. This morning, they were incredible. But no professor to inform me about composers' intriguing surprises. That sounds good to remember.

ProfWombat said...

You never knew what he'd say. Also, of course, had an encyclopedic knowledge of astrophysics, and a very sweet guy.

Wondered, recalling him, from time to time, about whether I was wise to enter medicine. Still do. One of my roads less traveled.