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Night Sky in Luxembourg

by Diana Lockhart

When we found this apartment 5 years ago, I was excited about the proximity to city centre—an easy walk, convenient bus stops, shopping near. My dear husband was NOT excited about the proximity of civilization—he preferred the circa 1500 farmhouse in the Belgian countryside, complete with…nothing. 

Operating under cover of darkness is his modus operandi—one of the many conditions necessary for his hobby. And no, Mr. Wonderful is not a serial killer, unless snuffing our social life for his clear nights of stargazing counts. My dear (self-proclaimed and family-sanctioned) geeky husband is an amateur astrophotographer, maker of telescopes and mirrors, teacher of the night sky. 

He fits black felt inside the telescope tube to remove light reflection in the wrong direction. He cuts cardboard extensions, laminated with my reusable-no-more shopping bags for the tube to eliminate dew collection on the mirror. While he McGyvers his instrument (yes, I’m referring to the telescope), I watch British detective shows or grab a book from the growing pile. I’ve learned not to ask what he’s working on, because he’ll actually explain it. 

Our travels have taken us to places of famous astronomers…to Greenwich to see the Royal Observatory, home of the Prime Meridian and William Herschel’s 40 foot reflecting telescope with which he discovered my favorite planet–Uranus.

In 2015, we were so happy to visit Paris (though my dear husband had, of course, been before). We walked and walked, practically ran through the Louvre to see all we wanted to see. As we gave up on our blistered feet and French-exhausted brains, we purchased tickets for those hop-on hop-off buses to maximum our views and rest on our grateful butts. At one stop, near the Pantheon, Mr. Wonderful suggested we limp off the bus in search of lunch. Though I saw some delightful terraced cafés in one direction, he suggested the other way. The neighborhood seemed somewhat sketchy to my suburban eye, but we explored on, grateful to find an air-conditioned pizzeria on the 99 degree day. As we rested, my travel buddy scoured the map, then looked at me sheepishly, “the Paris Observatory is only a 15 minute walk from here.” A thirty minute walk brought us to the observatory, authorized by King Louis XIV in 1666, where Saturn’s moon lapetus was discovered in 1671 and in 1676, the staff concluded that light was travelling at a finite speed. Sadly, the institution was open for tours only by appointments on Sundays (and is now closed due to renovations, not to mention the pandemic), but my star-gazing husband was thrilled to see a statue of Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier, who used mathematics to predict the existence and position of Neptune. 

We look forward to traveling to Denmark some day (hopefully soon?)–I would love to see Tivoli Garden and the colorful harbor of Nyhavn, the Little Mermaid, and Kronborg Castle. Someone is fascinated with Tycho Brahe, a 16th-century Danish astronomer who developed instruments for calculating and fixing the positions of the stars. My only attraction with the famous astronomer is that he lost his nose in a duel, and he may have been killed by king Christian IV because Brahe allegedly had an affair with his wife. My favorite part, besides hearing our Danish friend try to teach my dear husband the proper pronunciation of the name, is the myth that his death was the result of an exploding bladder…which makes me so sad he had nothing to do with the discovery of Uranus…what a fine pairing that would have been!

Though my level of scientific intellect differs greatly from that of my spouse, there are, beyond question, lessons learned. I now know that certain filters for a camera can assist in eliminating some light pollution; the light of a full moon makes it difficult to capture sharp images of stars or galaxies; globular clusters are dense collections of stars, nebulae are interstellar clouds of dust, and galaxies come in many shapes and sizes (spiral, elliptical and irregular). I know it’s better to watch a meteor shower with the bare eye, and I can (sometimes) locate Venus and Saturn in the sky. I know that when an amateur astronomer receives a delivery of new instruments for his or her hobby, there will automatically be 3 weeks of clouds and gloom. 

One thing I know for sure: the look of joy on this man’s face when he opened the gift of a starter telescope nearly 20 years ago is one I’ll never forget. Nor will I forget the studious look on his face when he devoured (over and over) a book, written in 1947, given to him by our octogenarian friend Phil, along with a kit for making a 6 inch telescope mirror, and the satisfaction as he measured and re-measured, shaping the piece of glass into the perfect parabola before buffing and polishing. All this science and math and building and calibrating and measuring and adjusting leads, not only to an artillery battery of different sized telescopes, but to the amazement in his eyes when he looks into the night sky. 

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