Posted by: T. Boyd | February 9, 2009

Saturn On Edge II

(article submitted to the Caroline Progess, used by permission)
Behold the height of the stars, how high they are! (Job 22:12)
The photographs, used by permission of,  show the surprising view of Saturn now compared to just a year ago.  The rings become almost invisible  for several weeks.  This phenomena happens every 14 to 15 years when the plane of Saturn’s rings crosses the plane of the earth’s orbit around the sun.  My wife and I last saw this 29 years ago as the story below tells.

My wife writes:

My husband walked up to me and asked, “What happens every twenty-nine years?”  Although he had given the question no introduction,  I promptly answered, “Saturn makes a complete circuit of the sun.”

“It’s amazing that you would remember that,” he replied.

Actually, it’s far from amazing.  There is something about being urged out of  a warm bed at 2 A.M. when it’s 19 degrees outside that leaves an indelible imprint on one’s brain.  We had been married about a week.  From my perspective, things had been going rather smoothly.  We had previously recognized that we had differing tastes in music, but eventually, I reasoned, he will understand that I really do prefer the Beach Boys to Bach.

I knew, of course, that he had taught astronomy and had a small telescope.  What I didn’t realize until that cold January night was the extent of his enthusiasm for the subject.  He woke me with such delight, insisting that I must accompany him to the balcony to view Saturn turned on its side so that the rings were virtually invisible.  I looked at the clock and at his face.  He clearly saw neither hour nor the frigid cold as deterrents.   I went to the balcony and froze for ten minutes before beginning to plead that seeing Saturn once without its rings must be enough and arguing that all these heavenly bodies must also still be there in May and June when there was no danger of frostbite.  Don’t ever use that argument with an astronomer.  It leads to a long, enthusiastic (on his part) discourse about periods of peak visibility.

Ultimately,  reality set in.  He really loved this stuff.  I began to see these middle-of-the-night invitations as normal – and when he taught astronomy at Randolph Macon, I even thought it was normal that we should have placed our sleeping children in sleeping bags in the car to drive to the observatory to view the Grand Conjunction – the one that was supposed to cause California to fall into the sea.  He held each child up to the telescope, and they went to school that day with pictures of the conjunction taken through the telescope.

And through it all we have learned.  He got me a Beach Boys CD, and I have come to treasure his devotion to God’s handiwork in the heavens and even more to treasure the presence of God in our lives.

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