Monday, May 13, 2013

Lost In A Science Fiction Parking Lot

Many decades back, north of Chicago,
Northwestern University had two
astronomical observatories.

One, with an old large refractor, was used
for public relations activities.

The other was used for student research
and had two large Cassegrain reflectors
in a beautiful building on the lake
that looked like a science fiction setting
from a big budget science fiction film
except it was real and did real science.

During my high school summer vacations
I attended every astronomy
and astrophysics class I could convince
the university I could handle.

Once or twice I was able to visit
both observatories and hang around
asking questions, helping or just watching,
feeling like a science fiction movie
was in production around me except
the equipment and scientists were real.

The science fiction building on the lake
was torn down just a few years after that.

The maintenance costs were becoming high
and the location close to Chicago
getting to the twenty-first century
wasn’t a realistic location
for gathering astronomy data
when more and more dark sky sites came online
out west away from any city lights.

I miss that building but I was thinking
here now in the twenty-first century
understanding change and accepting change
might be the heart of this new century.

But then something else occurred to me, too.

As a high school student I would borrow
the family car to drive to Northwestern.

The parking lots where I would park the car
to attend class, hang out with scientists
or visit the two observatories
are still in the same places on campus.

Change here in the twenty-first century
is easier on our cars than on us.

And apparently all the parking lots
occupy realistic locations
for parking twenty-first century cars.

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