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Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 81 ON A CLEAR SPRING EVENING a couple of months ago, I took my six-year-old son, Skye, to the Chabot Space and Science Center in the Berkeley hills to look at Saturn through a 28-foot telescope. Outer space is Skye’s latest passion. He pores over jumbles of books with titles like One Hundred Things You Should Know About Space, and over a deck of cards bearing images from the Hubble Space Telescope on one side and space trivia on the other: “How is a supernova formed?” “How can scientists tell which direction a galaxy rotates?” Space has never been something I’ve thought much about, so Skye’s books—which he likes me to read aloud to him after dinner—regularly blow my mind. “ ‘Dark matter’ is what scientists call all the stuff in the universe that they know is there but can’t find!” one book informed us cheerfully. “Scientists can guess how much matter is in the universe by measuring how galaxies move. This shows them that stars and planets only make up a small part of the universe. The rest is invisible!” I thought about that one all week, astounded that astronomers aren’t all raving mystics, prostrating in abject awe before their telescopes. “What’s outside the Universe?” we read in the same book a few nights later. “Scientists are still trying to guess, by using clues left Astronomy Lessons Peering through a telescope, Anne Cushman and her son glimpse the vast space where science and Zen ask the same questions. behind from the birth of our Universe. They are pretty sure there would be no time, distance, or things there.” That last sentence sounded like a chant that should be intoned in a Zen temple to the beat of an enormous drum. But instead I was reading it at my kitchen table, while Skye nibbled on a pink egg-shaped cookie that he believed was hidden in our house on Easter morning by a giant magical rabbit. And who could blame him? In a world of big bangs and wormholes to other galaxies, I could almost believe in the Easter Bunny myself. Skye and I went to the Chabot observatory with one of Skye’s best friends, Alex, a bright-eyed, dimpled kindergartener who shares Skye’s passion for science. Alex is fascinated by microbiol- ogy; his favorite toys are his stuffed microbes, cuddly renditions of germs ranging from influenza to anthrax. On Halloween he went trick-or-treating as athlete’s foot. Skye and Alex have been friends since before they could walk, when Alex’s mother, May, and I used to stroll to the neighbor- hood park with the boys in front-packs over our hearts. When Alex was three years old, he was diagnosed with muscular dys- trophy, and he’s now undergoing experimental genetic therapy ILLUSTRATIONBYJESSICAVONHANDORF MAY 80-105.indd 81 MAY 80-105.indd 81 3/6/08 11:36:37 AM 3/6/08 11:36:37 AM