Telescope images of the planets Saturn and Jupiter around the time Brad had his “Saturnine Epiphany” in NYC in 2002.
December 2002: Earth and Saturn had an extraordinarily close encounter. The ringed planet was only 1.2 billion km from Earth – about as close as it could get – and its rings were tipped towards us. The view through a telescope was simply breathtaking. – NASA.gov
One of the most profound experiences of my life was walking down 3rd Avenue in New York City’s East Village some fifteen years ago, late on a Saturday night in the dead of winter. A blizzard had pummeled the island of Manhattan the previous day and continued to do so well into the following morning. Despite the entire city being blanketed in snow, the evening sky was as crisp as freshly paved tar on a country road in mid-summer resulting in a clarity of the night that was as clear as it was rare. As I made my way home to my apartment on East 6th street that night I walked past a homeless man stationed next to what seemed to be a stout barrel positioned atop a pronged stand. On closer inspection, the barrel was a telescope, and a mini-powerhouse one at that.
Propped in the newly fallen snow next to the telescope was a cardboard sign that announced in uneven, randomly capitalized handwritten letters: “ONCE IN A LIFETIME VIEW – 75 CENTS”.
I asked the homeless man what I would see. All he said was “Pay up 75 cents and you’ll know soon enough.”
This is where being born beneath the sign of Gemini can really be a nuisance because I had no choice. My mental curiosity HAD to know what the telescope would reveal, even at the risk of seeing the 12th floor of the Empire State building up close and personal, or worse, contracting pink eye from a lens that wasn’t given thorough cleanings in between other gullible chumps’ missed attempts at seeing a whole lot of nothing prior to my visit.
I pulled out a dollar bill to which the homeless man said he only accepted exact change. I then irritably fumbled for 3 quarters. Upon receiving payment, the impoverished man wrapped both arms around the telescope, heaved the bulky piece of equipment a few feet to my right and placed it down into the snow with a quick thud. He then looked up at the sky with a squinted gaze of intent while his hand manipulated the lens a few notches. Without looking into the lens, he said “Go Ahead.”
His actions were executed so quickly and with such confident precision, it was almost magical. So much so, the New Yorker in me forgot to bother asking how he knew if his equipment would be focused on the right target. I slowly stepped up to the lens and as trite as this sounds by both myself and NASA.gov, what I then saw took my breath away – quite literally. I remember making a gasping sound as if I had emphysema and gulping down the sharp winter air like it was the last reserve from an oxygen tank.
Within the telescope’s lens was the mighty planetary giant, Jupiter and from the angle I was gazing at, the King of the Solar System was escorted by 4 of his most notable squires, the Galilaen Moons. Two sets of satellites were positioned on either side of the biggest of planets, each perfectly suspended with divine scale-like balance. The image was so clear and detailed, not only could I see the striated tan, gold, and orange swirls of Jupiter’s surface, I also was able to observe its mysterious “Giant Red Spot“, an ever moving storm which at that particular moment in time was traversing the bottom lower quarter of the gaseous Titan’s orb.
I stood there gawking incredulously though the telescope lens before hearing the homeless man’s voice ask “You ready for another?” All I could do was simply nod and aimlessly hold out a dollar bill. His hand dismissively whisked both myself and my money away, inferring that everything was inclusive with the 3 quarter fee I had paid earlier.
He scurried past me and began the same ritualized hugging and moving of the telescope, this time a good distance from where I was standing. He once again didn’t look into the lens but instead announced “All set.”
I was mesmerized and still reeling from a view I didn’t know was even possible from anywhere outside of an Observatory, let alone a major city whose glaring lights made viewing of the evening sky close to impossible.
Nothing could prepare me for what I saw next.
The ringed planet was placidly lying in the black velvet casing of outer space on an almost ¾ tilted axis. The Sun’s reflected light at that angle had transformed the planet’s circular orb to that of a brilliantly illuminated ball of radiating, shimmering white.
Saturn’s rings also reflected the Sun’s light at this perfect angle, with each ring gleaming individually and brightly shining like the most precious of South African diamonds after being recovered from the bowels of the earth and sharpened to perfection.
The sight was so profoundly pristine, I involuntarily started to cry. And even though the path of my tears began to harden on my face due to the bitter cold, I still had to linger looking at this rare and truly heavenly vision.
Looking back, I believe I had gone into a state of mild shock. When I moved away from the lens, I placed the dollar bill that was still firm in my grasp into the homeless man’s palm and mumbled “Thank you, please take it.” as I walked in a stupor like a somnambulist back to my apartment.
If in a more rational state, I would have given the man a minimum of at least a few $100 bills.
I would think there aren’t that many occasions when a person can single-handedly prove the existence of a Higher Power to you in a matter of 12 minutes or less.
*Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.