This blog was originally written and published by Chad Littlefield in 2012. The story came up in conversation recently, and we were reinspired to share it here. Enjoy meeting, Dave.
This is a story about an interaction where humans seem to be entirely insignificant. Simultaneously, this story demonstrates how people matter in a very real, tangible way.
Cherry Springs State Park is where it all came together. Cherry Springs is a little spot in northern Pennsylvania that is known for it’s incredibly dark, clear skies. The combination of high elevation and complete lack of light pollution make this spot an astronomer’s dream.
Maarten, Mike, Tim, Alyssa, Katie, and I decided on the spontaneous overnight trip to Cherry Springs about two minutes before it actually happened. And, hot dang, I’m glad it happened. June 15, 2012 just happened to be a new moon. June 15 also happened to be The Astronomical Society of Harrisburg’s annual “Star Party.” (Who knew?) Seemingly the most nerdy event on Earth, right? Entirely, completely, and fully wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong! This is where Dave and his $12,000 telescope come in.
After we pitched our tents, toasted a hotdog and 19 s’mores, we headed over to a field set up with hundreds of astronomers and their telescopes. We just happened to be lucky enough to say hello to Dave. He invited us over to peek at a globular star cluster that he had his ten foot tall telescope focused on. Through the eyepiece, we could see a little fuzzy ball looking something like a galaxy. We were pretty impressed until Dave told us that that “little fuzzy ball” was what 300,000 stars looked like from far away. Then we were really impressed. 300,000! The sun is one star. The sun is 1,000,000 times the size of the earth. You don’t even need to do any freaking math to have your mind blown off from this.
As we began to feel our smallness, Dave began to explain how he made his first telescope at age eight. A bigger one at age ten. Flash forward to present day, Dave was letting us climb a ladder to look at Saturn through his most recent telescope. As the computerized scope was locking onto the planet, I’m practically twitching with anticipation. I’m pumped to see – what I expect to be – a really bright light that Dave promises is Saturn. When I look through the scope, my jaw smashes the ground as I effortlessly count every ring on Saturn while observing the shadow that those rings cast on the planet itself. Oh crap. My mind got blown off – again!
Reflecting back on this completely surreal experience, I was completely humbled. After this experience, I truly realized that relative to what I just saw, we am no bigger than an atom in our own body. That’s when the insignificance of humans really struck me.
Then came my realization of the significance of human beings. Dave, just one person, unknowingly offered me a deeply humbling experience that in some way has changed the way I view and interact with people. The ripple effect of one curious, unique dude is far greater than he probably knows.
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