MCCOY: Seeing Yale’s sky

I like to think that in the fall of A.D. 3100, our great-great- … -grandchildren will matriculate at New Yale, located in the city of New New Haven on the icy surface of Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s Galilean moons and the largest satellite in the solar system. I imagine students complaining about how far away the Science Modular Bubble lies from the Main Campus Modular Bubble, while New Stiles and New Morse students — who were unlucky enough to be placed in the colleges whose architect chose to create bubble-buildings without the use of smooth curves — listen enviously, knowing they have a strenuous three-hour ice trek to get back to their dining bubbles. Students eagerly await Synthetic Protein Tender Day but ridicule Synthetic Protein Apple Crisp Day. And each night, New Yalies hurry from Multi-Dimensional Improv Rehearsal to section for Xenobiology, faces turned downward and vision clouded by protective gas masks.

As they dash from activity to activity with eyes glued to the screens of their iPhone 2678s, a sight of unrivaled beauty plays out over their heads: the rise and fall of Jupiter.

The massive sphere travels ponderously across the heavens, filling the entire horizon. Eternal battles rage on its surface. Under the surveillance of the Great Red Eye, multicolored atmospheric belts wage war on each other, their edges crackling with hot spots of turbulence and electricity. Distant stars can but twinkle feebly on Ganymede, for Jupiter owns the sky.

Sadly, this grandeur goes unnoticed by students of New Yale, who are caught up in the mundane regularities of everyday life on Ganymede. Perhaps things are not so different at New Yale after all.

Friends, Yalies, countrymen: lend me your eyes. Tonight as you hustle from section to rehearsal, step back from the details of life at Yale; cast your gaze to the night sky. Warning: It is beautiful, and captivating, and you will probably trip on the stones on Cross Campus as you stare upward, mouth agape, passers-by wondering if you are quite right in the head.

But it will be worth it. Starting around dinnertime, look to the west; you will see two particularly bright celestial objects doggedly overcoming the haze of light pollution. They are clearly disc-shaped, rather than the twinkling points that signal stars. Venus sits near the horizon, while Jupiter shines above — a sight less impressive than the view from Ganymede, but awe-inspiring nonetheless. To the east, a rufous Mars appears low in the sky, sullen and angry. Between these planetary beacons, constellations pepper the night sky, and stars flicker with faint shades of red, blue and yellow.

It is difficult to make out detailed constellations; after all, we do live in a city. But look for the W of stars that define the vain queen Cassiopeia and the three stars that comprise Orion’s belt; you should also be able to see Orion’s bow and dagger. (An aside: The ancient Egyptians identified Orion as Unas, the first known pharaoh to have pyramid texts, writings to aid his soul in navigating the hostile Underworld, inscribed within his tomb. “Re-Atum, Unas comes to you, a spirit invincible … so that you both may stride over the sky, uniting in darkness, and rise on the horizon in the place that you like to be.”)

Visit the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium, and with the help of a telescope you will see so much more: the Galilean moons, pinpricks of light orbiting Jupiter; stars in the spaces between the spaces between familiar stars; and myriad galaxies, fuzzy spots dotting the night sky.

Many of us are swept along in the fast-paced current of Yale, caught up in details and activities. We ride the river enthusiastically, encountering amazing people and things, but it may be worthwhile to step out of the current from time to time and just stand still. Play bridge with some friends, go for a walk, stop by the New Haven Public Library. Look to the stars, let your mind wander. And perhaps one day, like Unas, we will stride across the sky; perhaps our great-great- … -grandchildren will, indeed, go to school on Ganymede.

Comments

  • AndromedaWaits

    Great article! Trust a bird person to use the word “rufous” :)

  • whatwhat

    great article

  • yalengineer

    cool cool cool cool.

  • Cleopatra

    Great imagery. Where can I buy a ticket to Ganymede? (although the view from Earth right now is not bad at all either!)