I printed off the maps from Troy's house to the Butler campus and gave them to him so he could navigate. The name of the Observatory wasn't on the map, so I asked him if he could guess where we were going. He said he had no idea. After looking at the map for a few minutes, he said, "Hey! It's the Butler campus. We're going to the Vonnegut thing, aren't we?" ( http://www.butler.edu/about/abo_news_story.asp?strBack=%2Fdefault.asp&iNewsID=1084place ) For those of you who don't know, Kurt Vonnegut was supposed to give a speech at Butler University, but unfortunately, he died on April 11th. His son, Mark, would be giving the speech, which had been written before Kurt's death, at Clowes Hall on the Butler campus that same evening. The tickets had been free, but had been "sold out" in mere minutes a few months ago. Needless to say, I had NO idea this was going on at the campus on Friday night. When Troy asked if that's where we were going, he looked so hopeful and suddenly the Observatory didn't seem nearly as interesting.
After breaking the news to him that we would not be attending the speech, I told him where we WERE going and he directed me where to go since I'm not familiar with the campus.
Freshly informed that the Vonnegut speech was the same evening, I was pretty sure we would NOT have a crowd at the observatory. When we arrived, we paid our $3 and entered a room where there were only 2 other people. We practically had the place to ourselves! The atmosphere was quite collegiate with its old linoleum smell and time-worn benches that creaked under our well-fed 21st century weight.
Our "instructor" for the evening was Sarah, who informed us that she had just finished the last of her undergraduate classes that afternoon and the she would soon be graduating with a degree in physics and, despite having forked out a pretty penny for a Butler education, would be leaving her chosen field in order to obtain an MBA. She also claimed that she was actually a little more calm than usual because she hadn't had her daily caffeine dose. Let's just say, I would HATE to see her all "buzzed" up. Now, I realize that this is essentially an astronomy lecture and perhaps not the most interesting subject matter, but I hadn't planned on seeing such a peppy presentation. Maybe I'm old, but I could have done with a little less slap-stick.
Saturn is actually quite interesting and they have really discovered a lot about it since I last picked up a textbook. They have sent several missions up to photograph it and the photos are just breathtaking. They seem almost cartoonish with their vivid colors. Saturn is a gaseous planet made mostly of hydrogen and helium (like the sun) with a few other gasses thrown in for good measure. It is so dense that if you tried to parachute through it, you would be crushed because the pressure is so great. Its rings are actually made up of dirty snow balls about the size of a person and they are VERY densely packed together. It has about 23 known moons and they are constantly finding more. (When I was in school, they only knew about 2 moons. ...I'm OLD!)
Once the presentation finished up, Sarah pointed out some constellations in the planetarium. But the highlight of the evening was finding out that the stormy skies outside had cleared a bit and that we had a small window of time to view the moon through the gigantic telescope. We headed up the winding staircase and were treated to a view of the moon. It was a fairly bright moon that night, so the young woman operating the telelscope set it up so we would just look at the edge of it. Even then, it was so bright that it would take your eye a minute to recover after looking at it through the telescope.
A few minutes later, the clouds rolled back in and the young ladies closed the telescope up for the evening. Back in 1994, it was computerized so that it moves at the touch of a button. Before that, it took 4 good-sized men to move it into position!
We finished up our evening with a stroll down by the fountain. It was quite a beautiful site and the evening was just perfect. It was crisp and just cool enough for a light jacket or sweater. The Butler campus was calm with another semester drawing to a close. I think all Friday evenings should be exactly like this.