When I was growing up, all I wanted to be was an astronomer. Vermont is a pitch black state when night falls, so it was a good place to be obsessed with the sky. I could name all the constellations and the major stars, and I had books of star maps and paper charts on little wheels to show which constellations belonged to which hemisphere, according to season. When my brother got to hear an astronomer give a talk at Dartmouth about red dwarfs and white dwarfs, I begged him for weeks to give me his signed book.
When Halley's Comet was due to be visible in 1986, I read up on it for days ahead of time and studied all the pictures I could find. This was before the internet and very cool pictures of everything in space. I spent some time at the library looking through a dramatically illustrated history of the comet, and my dad helped by bringing me information he could get from Dartmouth College. On comet night, he woke me and my little brother up in the small hours of the morning, hung binoculars on both of us, and we walked across the field and up the hill to get a good vantage point over the trees. When we picked Halley's Comet out, it didn't look anything like the wildly streaking ball of fire pictured in the book I'd read. It looked like a kind of tiny muddy-lighted star, moving slowly. I knew my star charts, though, and it was definitely something different that wasn't usually in that spot. We stood out in the pitch black cold and watched it for a while, and I thought about how old it was and where it had been and wondered if I would still be alive when it came back again. If I am, you can bet I'll be outside on a hill looking for it and thinking about my father.
Thanks, Dad! I love you. I still love constellations, too. Orion is my favorite,