Reviews of bucket-list-worthy things to do all over the world

Through the Telescope

The first time that I remember looking through a telescope, I was at Griffith Observatory. An astronomer had set up a large, computerized telescope outside the observatory to show visitors whatever he thought might be of interest in the night sky. I peered through the telescope and found myself staring at the moon. The level of detail that could be seen in the cratered surface was breathtaking, but the real magic came from the fact that I wasn't looking at a photo, or model, or even a 3D movie, I was looking directly at our moon! Once everyone had been given a chance to look at the moon, the astronomer directed the telescope's computer to find something else. The telescope aimed itself in a different direction, and then we peered at Saturn. Through the telescope, we could see its rings. It was our own private tour of the sky.

Over the years, I have visited Griffith Observatory many times. Inside the observatory, I enjoy watching the Tesla coil send bolts of electricity to the walls of its cage (when activated by the observatory staff). Sometimes, I lean back in a seat in the planetarium and watch one of the interesting shows. I like to wander through the beautiful downstairs that features large models of the planets, and scales where visitors can weigh themselves "on each planet." Twice, I have watched the free movie, inside the Leonard Nimoy theater, that shows details of the dramatic renovation of the observatory from 2002 through 2006.

I love to climb the stairs to the observatory roof and check out the building's architecture, and the views of downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood Sign. Another draw on the roof of the building is the huge Zeiss telescope located in the dome on the east side. On numerous evenings, I have waited in a snaking line for my turn to climb a metal staircase and gaze through the monstrosity. Unfortunately, since the demand to look through the telescope is so great, one look, at one celestial attraction, is usually all that I get.

To look at many celestial attractions all in one night, I head to Griffith Observatory's "public star parties." Once a month, numerous astronomers set up their telescopes on the front lawn of Griffith Observatory offering visitors the chance to gaze at different stars and planets, one after the other. Parking at the observatory during special events is very difficult, so my friends and I park by the Greek Theater and take a short, moderately strenuous hike up to the observatory. Then, we walk from telescope to telescope and check out things like our moon, interesting stars and planets, and Orion Nebula (one of the astronomers described it as "a baby star nursery;" it looks like a glowing cloud with stars inside). Of course, not everything is visible every night.

I have now gazed through telescopes many times, and, in the process, learned a little about the night sky, including:

1. Not everything that looks, to the naked eye, like a star is a star. Some "stars" are actually planets... or airplanes.

2. When we look at stars, we are looking at the past. The view that we see is actually a view from many, many years ago. The star that we see today might no longer exist.

3. We are part of a truly amazing universe.

I did this most recently in 2012 in Hollywood, California, USA.

Jen (California, USA)