Twinkle, twinkle

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It's cloudy tonight. I'm disappointed. The new telescope in our house, a Christmas present, will sit in a corner.

But even sitting there, it doesn't go unused. Just looking at it sets my imagination to working. What I've seen through the eyepiece orbits inside my head as clearly as thinking of eggs in a frying pan.

In the short time I've owned it, I've marveled at the rings of Saturn, four of Jupiter's nine moons, and the sharp outline of shadows cast by mountains on our own moon reflecting the sun's light.

Recommended: What makes a planet livable? Five things scientists look for.

Saturn's rings are perhaps the most unique phenomenon in our solar system. Their symmetry bespeaks an order and design in the vastness of the heavens as precise as a microchip on the computer I use to type this column.

But in all honesty, I cannot fathom the scale of space my 8 inch diameter Dobsonian reflector telescope traces.

In the coming year, the Ideas section will take an astronomical bent. We will cover recent discoveries about the heavens. The planet Mercury, as we all learned in elementary school, closest in orbit to our own sun, will be our lead off next week.

We'll take note of the red planet Mars as it comes into prominence in the night sky this spring. And we'll be sure to take a look at the hopes and aspirations, the motives and delights of the men and women who point the large telescopes skyward.

Let me suggest a stellar masterpiece: "Coming of Age in the Milky Way," by Timothy Ferris (Anchor Books). It is a soaring book.

The Massachusetts congressman Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." Huddled over the eyepiece of a telescope, all space seems local, too.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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