The picture is fuzzy.
I squint at it, turn it sideways.
Could it be the lens? Does it need cleaning? Did I jog the telescope somehow when the shutter was open?
I shake my head. Why wouldn’t it be fuzzy? After all, it’s millions upon millions of light-years away. And though our telescope is the best that money can buy and still fit in the astrodome, and though I’m outside of the effect that Earth’s atmosphere has on deep space photography, things like this are going to happen.
I sigh and turn my augmented eye on the quasar again. I’m in the midst of updating my first book, the one that’s considered a primer for the budding astronomer. I want to get some more images, better images, pictures of the Tracy Quasar, views of some of the other celestial bodies that have been discovered since I first wrote this book. Images that will light a fire inside someone’s mind and heart and ignite a love of the stars. The same love that I’ve had ever since I was able to look up at the sky and realize what those little dots of light really were.
Exactly when that was or how old I was, I couldn’t tell you. It has seemed I always had that love burning inside. My father said that I was three or four when I began to ask about the stars and the constellations. He began teaching me then, pointing out the formations, drawing them down on paper and telling me the stories behind them. I think he was pleased that one of his children was as interested in space as he had been. But I just couldn’t get enough. There was so much more to know and it pushed me to learn to read at a very young age, simply so I could get the books on astronomy out of the library. I was the grade school kid who brought home the adult-level science books from the library to see what new fact about the stars I could glean from them. I was the brother who made his siblings groan at the dinner table whenever I began a conversation with, “Did you know…?”. Dad gave me my first telescope when I was eight and woe to any of my brothers who dared to even breathe on it! That was when I began my own observations of the stars, hoping to find out something new, something dazzling about them.
And unlike most childhood pasttimes, my love of astronomy grew as each year passed. It became obvious that this was going to be a consuming passion of mine. And my Dad encouraged it, fed it, sat back and watched me enjoy it. It was the reason I went into the field of laser communications at Harvard; the latest star mapping technology was using lasers. It was the reason I became an astronaut, taking the training offered at Tracy College. I broke down and cried on my first flight outside the Earth’s atmosphere when I realized that all the constellations that I knew and loved were now strangers. I cried tears of joy because it meant that I could learn all about them all over again and see them as they really were, unfiltered by the protective arms of Mother Earth. If possible, my burning passion burned even brighter then, and set my life’s course forever. I became a true astronomer.
My passion fit right in with Dad’s plans. He needed someone who loved space, who wouldn’t tire of it easily, who would find a challenge in it daily. I was his man. I remember the wonder I felt the first time I took command of Thunderbird Five, the awe I experienced the first time I looked through this same telescope and saw farther into space than I ever had before. I remember my excitement when I found the quasar. I didn’t call home for a week, I was so absorbed in my study of it. There was only one rescue during that time, and Dad couldn’t fail to hear the distraction in my voice. So as soon as it was over, he and Alan and Scott were on their way to me to see what was wrong. I remember the jolt I got when Dad’s head popped up into the astrodome from below. I turned to him, and, with a voice full of joy and excitement, I cried, “Dad! Look what I’ve found! You have to see what I’ve found! I’ve discovered a quasar!”
He looked through the telescope long and hard, so quiet as he peered through the eyepiece. I began to sweat. I didn’t know if he would understand how much this meant to me, if he’d forgive the time taken away from my duties to study this new phenomena. Then he looked up and smiled, a grin that nearly split his face. He turned to me and pulled me into a strong hug, thumping me on the back.
“Congratulations, son! It’s fantastic! A brand new, undiscovered quasar!”
Scott and Alan were stumbling all over themselves then, wanting to see what I found so fascinating. For the first time in years, I was able to bring forth my knowledge and impress my brothers instead of making them groan. And I basked in the unmitigated approval of my father like never before.
He told Scott to stay behind and man the monitor room so I could have some uninterrupted time to make some more observations. For two weeks Scott listened to me go on and on about the quasar; by the end we were back to the old days of “Did you know…?”. He would have gladly throttled me by then, but Alan came up for his turn in the rotation, and saved him the trouble. I begged and pleaded with Dad to let me stay on during Alan’s term, but he was emphatic that I come home.
“We need to see you, John, and you need to have some time here with the family. Bring your research with you. You’ve got to get this quasar registered through the proper channels so you can be recognized as its discoverer,” he told me firmly. “Besides, some rest and sunshine and you’ll be fit to continue your research with a clear head.”
He was right, of course. I filled out the paperwork as the quasar’s discoverer right away and named it for my family. I found out later that another claim had been filed three weeks after mine. While I was dirtside, I was able to organize my data and begin the bare bones of my fourth book, a slim volume on the Tracy Quasar. Dad has an autographed copy among the books behind his desk, sitting alongside my other three volumes. Occasionally, I see him reading it through and smiling.
The thought of the book brings me back to the present. I’ve been lost in thought for some time now, and I grin. Settling my eye down to the viewer, I look with pride on my discovery, then I open the shutter to the camera, hoping this time to get a clear picture of it. The exposure will take a while, so I abandon the astrodome to find something to eat. As I climb down the ladder, I glance upwards and my soul is stirred again by the beauty of the heavens above me, and I shiver. The passion is still there, burning brightly, and I count myself fortunate that I can pursue that passion for as long I desire, supported in that pursuit by those who mean the most to me in all the universe.