I looked out my back window tonight and I thought, “Hmm…that looks like it might be Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction.” Checked the Sky Map app…and indeed, it is, and in Sagittarius too (my birth sign)! Full moon too…how nice.
This is just a story. When I first had my life changed by some inexplicable mental event, when I was 17, I fell in love with astronomy. My father says that I was touched by an angel…whatever that means to him. But I experienced some mental event…some change where my life was transformed from being just some teenage bum from a broken family and a broken childhood with no direction, no care, no real interest in life at all beyond beer and cigarettes and guns and bow and arrows, still taking grade 9 courses in high school when I was supposed to be in grade 11, having still failed most of my grade 10 courses, having never experienced what it must be like to have parents, to a young man driven with a passion to understand what the words “solar system”, “planet”, “galaxy”, and “universe” meant. I was out for a walk down to the corner store to pick up a pack of cigarettes (I had my first smokes when I was 7…Players Light) when this thought, those words, and the personal questions about them entered my mind. Such a strange thing.
I went to the high school library the next day, or at least that week, the first time of course ever setting foot in that place of my own volition – it was always a place to be avoided, and if I could skip class when I knew we would be going there I always did – and I looked around for some books that looked like they were about space-things. On display was the entire collection of Time Life’s “Voyage Through the Universe” series. I started reading them. I remember distinctly, at some point thereafter, reading discussion about how the universe started: You could ask such questions!? And not only ask, but you could even try to answer such questions!?
So I started reading those books…and I didn’t stop reading. I read everything. I read the high school library right out…right out of everything it had on astronomy. I even ordered books by mail so that I could read some more. It became clear that if someone were to be an astronomer, given the history I read about, that one should likewise have an appreciation for the history and development of philosophical thought and likewise of the scientific method, and of reason, and of truth before face, truth before authority, and reason over dogma. I read, and read, and read…on everything that was important about how modern astronomy came to be and everything related to that. I crashed through The Origin of Species as a cliff-dive through a sheet of ice into a cold ocean of liberation from my quaint k-8 years in a private Christian Reformed school. Sagan was always there to encourage me to keep going.
And you know, I started doing better in school. I learned that I should be better at math because physics, the science we use to understand astronomy, is all math. So I began opting for more advanced math classes. I even took “adult-Ed” math classes outside of school just so that I could catch up to where I was supposed to be in high school. I took a high school physics class, and I was doing all these things simply because I developed or discovered this love for astronomy and for reason, but otherwise I had no plan about it and never thought that it would lead to anything. However, one day my high school physics teacher said to me: “You know, if you really like this, you can go to university for it.”
I responded: “I can?”
That was not a thought that had ever occurred to me before. What’s “university?” I guess…I could do that. Well…not like I had any other prospects. It took a few years but I caught up to everything I needed to have finished, and achieved the grades that I required, to get into university, with a small entrance scholarship.
During those years I spent so many nights studying the night sky, counting the stars with girls and telling them romantic things about the constellations – no, I was and still am largely quite a goofy person, so I really didn’t ever get any…well, maybe once or twice. My nickname in high school was literally “Goofy” though…! I’d rather be a Goofy genius than a dull normie!
But during those years, Jupiter and Saturn were coming into conjunction, and I always thought how nice it was to have both of them in that cool thickly-humid Southern Ontario night sky for me. I knew that they were Jupiter and Saturn because I knew what everything visible to the naked eye in the sky was, and I could read star charts and I knew the planetary ephemeri. By the time I was in university the two planets had moved into maximum conjunction, although at this point I didn’t have much time to watch the sky any longer. But one day, in my first year astronomy course, we learned after performing the necessary derivation that it was trivial to calculate the period of planetary conjunctions. The period of two planet’s conjunction is:
Tc = (T1-1 – T2-1)-1
It was natural for me to file this away as something really important to me personally, because I wanted to put to memory the period of conjunction for Jupiter and Saturn because always seeing them in the sky together formed such a big part of my sky-gazing during the years in which I was transformed into a university student studying this passion and love I had developed for astronomy.
And so for Jupiter’s orbital period about the Sun of 11.8 years and Saturn’s period about the Sun of 29.5 years, the period of their conjunction is thus about 20 years. Their last great conjunction was May 28, 2000, the end of the first year of my undergraduate degree in astronomy. The next great conjunction, and we’re just about there and we can observe it already as I did tonight, occurs on December 21, 2020…three days after my birthday, and seemingly directly on the Winter Solstice of this year. That’s really great, really neat.
You know, I think about my history, about my insane and ridiculous, abusive and traumatic, neglected and thrown-into-the-trash, non-parented by people who seemingly never even knew you existed childhood, and this strange mental event that transformed me as it did, and the sheer and absolute passion and love I’ve had generated within me for reason, for science, for philosophy, for truth, and then I think about these Mandarin academics and their ridiculous peer-review system, these tenured PhD’s in physics with zero ability to understand the most basic concepts of logic or of science, or of mathematics or empiricism, and their insane political belief in flat Earth theory…and, my heart swells with the purest hatred of them, and my mind bursts at murderous contempt of them, and my gut wrenches acid despise at them, and I want to destroy them and their pathetic, disgusting, Ignavi, pseudo-intellectual and sophistical existence. May they all die and rot in hell!