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Orion Looms

One of the things I like about winter - it's a short list, mind - is the night sky. Especially on really frosty nights when the air is thin with cold and the night seems filled with space. The other evening it was cold but not frigid; the sky had that clarity about it that revealed a multitude of stars even here in the center of the city. I took my walk later than usual and spent a lot of time looking up as I trundled along. One of my favorites, Orion, was almost directly over head, and he fascinated. He was brighter and seemingly larger than usual this night. His belt glinted sharply against the violet sky and below it hung Orion's Wang pointed directly at me with the tip, M43, glowing an angry red and brighter than Betelgeuse sitting on the Hunter's shoulder. When I was in college I took a lot of astronomy courses whenever I had elective credits available. I thought seriously about a career in astronomy, but eventually the math became too much and finally, a disastrous astrophysics course put an end to my Carl Sagan dream. One night, when we were at the campus observatory performing an overnight lab, a classmate of mine dubbed those three nebulae south of the Belt, "Orion's Wang". The lab consisted of doing observations of distant Cephied Variable stars in order to learn how to calculate galactic and extra-galactic distances. We weren't having much luck getting our work done because of the amount of Schnapps we had downed to stave off the cold followed by a near continuous series of bong hits to stave off the boredom. I was still enthralled with astronomy despite the enormous amount of scutt work involved. My lab partner, a few grades ahead of me, was on track for a career in astrophysical research, but had grown cynical regarding the wonders of the cosmos. The night was icy cold and the observatory, located on the outskirts of Muncie, Indiana, was in the middle of nowhere. The stars were so bright you could read by them. The TAs, huddled together in the single heated room the facility boasted, were involved with their own machinations and stimulants. We stood in the infinitely colder room with the telescopes and space heaters. In a moment of stoned reverie my partner pointed up at Orion and declared that he had named the three nebulae south of the belt, "Orion's Wang" and that I was witness after the fact. Of course, I melted into a 15 minute fit of laughter thinking this was the most hilarious thing I'd ever heard. From then on, I have thought of that night whenever I see Orion on a cold winter's night. Can't remember my lab partner's name nor his face, but then again most any memory would be washed away by something so ridiculous and monumental as Orion's Wang.


Dec. 31st, 2011 05:45 am (UTC)
I will now forever think of this as I look up at the night sky.