Hot Tub Astronomy: A Star for Everybody Dec01


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Hot Tub Astronomy: A Star for Everybody

This story appeared in Astronomy Magazine, December, 1987. I’ll edit it down a bit and add some up-to-date comments regarding the children mentioned. We eventually acquired 14 grandchildren.

A Star for Everybody

Grandchildren give you a chance to do the things you didn’t have time for or didn’t think of when you were busy raising your own family. When the children of two of our daughters and our son were going to be spending the night with us … all at the same time while their parents were away, their grandfather wanted to plan a special treat for them.

He decided that if the youngest children took good naps, he was going to let them stay up late, have their first “Hot Tub Astronomy” lesson, and even pick a star for their very own.

Fortunately it was dark and clear that night as Grandpa, the five excited boys and two wide eyed girls marched to the hot tub. I cleverly stayed out to man the towels.

It didn’t take long for the youngest girl to spot the star she wanted. She went for the brightest one, and almost before we were started six year old Libby was the owner of Sirius. Her younger brother, Scott,wasn’t happy with anything second to his sister’s, but with Sirius spoken for he would have to choose something else. “What’s second brightest?” he inquired with resignation. “Canopus can’t be seen tonight, too smoggy, and you can’t see it from your house anyway, because the star is too far south.” Grandpa explained. Scott sat back and stared at the heavens to think about it.

Meanwhile three of his cousins had been led to choose the belt stars in Orion. It was a natural for the three brothers, but posed one problem. Our charts showed the names of the large stars on the corners of Orion, but not the names of the center three. It would defeat the purpose if the boys couldn’t learn the names of their own stars.I went in to hunt through some more books and star atlases. Mike, who was eight and could read was pouring over the chart with a flashlight. He did not want to make such an important choice based on sight alone. First he would read what else was out there. “Look!” he told his sister, “Cygnus!” That’s what Grandpa Swan in Massachuetts named his boat. It means Swan! Grandpa I want Cygnus!” “That’s a whole constellation. How about the star Denab in Cygnus?” “Where is it?” Mike looked up hopefully. “It’s on the other side of the house. I’ll have to show it to you later, but it’s a good choice. Very easy to see from your house.”

I returned with the names of the belt stars. The left belt star was named Alnitak. It would go to the oldest of the three brothers, Tripp, who was seven. He repeated the name while staring at the star. The second brother, Grant, would have Alnilam and three year old Andrew would get Minataka, fortunately the name was easy for the three year old to pronounce. Now all of the grandchildren wanted to look at their stars with the binoculars. But when the children held the expensive binoculars in the hot tub Grandpa became nervous, and the children were never quite able to find anything with them, so he came up with a way to show them their stars and keep the binocs dry. He held the binoculars and centered a star in them, then he moved his right eye to the left eye piece, the child put his eye on the right so they were cheek to cheek each peering through a monocular.

The tub was bubbling over with cookie crumbs and excitment. Scott tried again to find something equal to his sister’s star. “Isn’t there anything brighter than Sirius?” “Yes.” His grandfather answered, “The Moon and Venus are brighter. But Venus would be a lot of work for a five year old. It’s a planet and doesn’t stay in the same place the way the stars do. If you want to do the work of tracking it… it’s yours.” “I will!” said Scott eagerly. The oldest girl, Ashley, chose Polaris for it’s simplicity. Everyone enjoyed his or her choice and the word spread. Our youngest daughter’s two boys soon asked for their own stars and Grandpa obliged. J.J. chose Aldebaran, and Robert wanted the entire Pleiades.

Months passed and Bob wondered if the children had kept in touch with their stars. When next the three brothers returned, they burst up to Grandpa full of excitment. “Guess what?” Tripp announced, “Today in school my teacher talked about the stars and I told her I had a star of my own and pointed to Alnitak. I even told them my brother’s and cousin’s stars. All of the kids thought that was really rad! and some of them came up to me later and asked if my grandfather would give them a star, too. Will you?”
Bob laughed. “How do you like that? as if I don’t have enough kids, I just inherited the whole third grade.” “Rad,” I said and added, “Tell the kids there are plenty of stars for everyone. Tell them to look carefully each night and choose one. Then get someone to tell them their star’s name. As long as they can find it and say it’s name it’s theirs.” “That reminds me.” said Tripp. “Mom said we need a fourth star.” Grant added, “We’re going to get a new baby brother!”

The boys chose to give their baby brother, named, John, the Orion Nebula just below their belt.

An early interest in the sky stayed with them. I can tell you now that when John was in High School, he started their first Astronomy Club. Grant became an Airforce Test Pilot and is now stationed in England with his wife, two year old son and a baby on the way , Tripp is a Lawyer and Andrew is an Architect. Libby graduated from Cal Tech and went on to become a Veterinarian, married a Doctor and has two little boys. Scott worked in Finance, when he’s not tracking Venus, and is now back at UCLA for a higher degree. Mike joined the Navy’s Air Sea Rescue to jump out of helicopters to save downed pilots. He now works for a computer firm, and is the father of a baby girl. Ashley graduated from Cal State, married a Lawyer and is the mother of two precocious children, a boy and a girl, the first of our 9 great-grandchildren. Another grandson, Cecil, flies charter jet planes for a living and has a new baby girl, his brothers, J.J. and Robert work for the family medical business. Rob has a sweet little daughter. I am gripped with grandparenty pride and want to add that these boys also have a brother, Cliff and a sister Kelly, who are in college. Libby and Scott too have a younger sister, Mackenna, who just passed the bar in New York. Suddenly like an Acadamy Award winner on T.V., droning on and on… I want to grab the mike and thank my great husband, Bob, and our wonderful kids, Nancy, Pam, J.R. and Bonnie. As I hear the music growing louder and before it can drown out my voice I panic and quickly add, “…and to the spouses of all these, you know who you are and so do I… I wish to thank you all so much for being the “Stars of Happiness” in my life. I am dragged off stage throwing kisses.