Steve Barnes' World of Happiness

A walk through the solar system; a walk through time.

After noting earlier this year that many of the planets would soon congregate within a narrow angle around the sun, it was gratifying to take a night walk during this already astronomically rich time of year, the Perseid shower. I think I saw a couple of streaks, but even if not, the sky was brighter than usual. Jupiter has been prominent, Saturn looking like almost a neighbour, and calculations also show Pluto invisibly amid them.

Not having planned on the full hour’s walk around the nearby arbouretum, I found myself taking it anyway. Descending a forested road I know well, I saw an illuminated top-floor steeple or attic, which baffled me because there shouldn’t have been any buildings of that height there. It took half a minute for my impression to flip: the light wasn’t a mere hundred metres away. I’d been seeing the moon, rising behind the trees of a distant hill, and nearer branches had obscured its edges and prevented me judging the distance.

The full circuit allowed me to look for a while in most directions, and eventually Mars was ahead. I know from later walks that Venus would have been next, completing the list of the most visible planets. In the end, it felt as much like a walk around the solar system as the arbouretum.

I couldn’t help reflecting on the stalwart planets’ roles in quietly connecting humanity. Full lifetimes start and end across countries and centuries, almost all people destined never to meet almost all others, but the planets were steady since long before they were known to be planets, through the time of the first telescopes, through today’s early visitations by probes and rovers. And on through the near and distant future.