Seeing the same target again has the comfort of a beloved rerun, while offering the opportunity for new discoveries.

Jupiter and GRS
Jupiter's belts and zones — not to mention its sizable moons — always offer something new to see.
Christopher Go

“Jupiter again?” My partner, M, asked.

My new 90mm Mak-Cass was set up on the front lawn, and I’d chosen a familiar target for first light. The image in the eyepiece wasn’t as crisp as expected. I didn’t think it was a collimation problem. Maybe the new scope needed longer to cool down. As I wondered about upper atmosphere turbulence, I invited M to come have a look.

He wasn’t impressed, and it had little to do with the image quality.

When I first showed him Jupiter through a telescope more than a year ago, he’d been enthusiastic and maybe a little awestruck. But the next night, the same sight wasn’t as exciting. Fifteen months later, it was downright boring.

As a burgeoning astro-nerd, I relish the constancy of stargazing. The stars’ steady progress overnight and through the year brings its own cozy comfort, and there’s always the possibility of stumbling across something new — like greater clarity of Jupiter’s zones and belts and tracking the positions of Jovian moons.

So, yes. Jupiter. Again.

Humans and other creatures crave the familiar. There’s reassurance in knowing what’s coming next, whether it’s difficult or delightful. Popular television shows are syndicated for years beyond their initial runs, because there’s genuine comfort in sitting down at the end of a stressful day to watch a rerun, even when you’ve seen the same Friends episode a dozen times before.

Familiar constellations and deep-sky objects offer similar comfort and reassurance, but unlike the umpteenth viewing of “The One Where Ross Gets High,” there’s always something new to hunt for in the stars.

For me, the anticipation of celestial reruns is part of the fun.

While I spent the autumn watching Delphinus drift farther to the west — when we didn’t have overcast skies in Portland — I also kept my eyes to the east as the Pleiades rose above the trees at a more reasonable hour. It's like the warm greeting of cherished friends who have been absent too long. I tried to memorize my Summer Triangle star-hopping between Vulpecula, Sagitta, and the tiny “Coat Hanger Cluster,” but I also looked forward to nudging my 114mm Dobsonian in the winter cold to follow the Orion Nebula across the sky. Soon, it would be time to experiment with the tracking on the old NextStar SCT I bought from my astronomy club’s library sale and to gauge the difference an 8-inch mirror can make.

I am bolstered by the familiar and by building on its foundation. I can point a bigger telescope at a repeat target and maybe come to the conclusion that bigger isn’t always better. I can rely on Castor and Pollux to find the Beehive cluster — a favorite I look forward to seeing again — and learn how to more readily spot Cancer, the Crab. I can lean on my old friend, Orion, to branch out into the Winter Triangle and maybe hunt for M50.

Or maybe you’re more like my partner, who is bored with the same astronomical sights and has little interest in a re-watch unless it’s The Expanse. He finds predictability tedious, and he gets irritated by the consistent themes in the Star Wars saga. Yes, it’s a sore point between us.

So, of course he doesn’t get excited about seeing Jupiter again through the telescope eyepiece. Didn’t we see that last night? Last month? Last year? From that perspective, it’s easy to think about the seasonal parade of constellations and planets as “same old, same old.”

But there’s a lot of “same old” I’m looking forward to this winter and beyond, including more views of Jupiter, weather permitting. I embrace the steadfast skies as well as the opportunities to look farther and try tiny tweaks to enrich the experience. There’s relaxation and reassurance in visiting with familiar celestial friends and their accompanying “brand new (to me)” rewards.


Image of Patrick Thibault

Patrick Thibault

February 11, 2022 at 5:02 pm

You're not alone Jennifer. I enjoy the constant display of the universe. It provides a sense of calmness amid the frenetic pace of modern humanity.

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Anthony Barreiro

February 11, 2022 at 8:21 pm

I find great comfort in observing the same stars and deep sky objects season by season, year after year, and following the more idiosyncratic comings and goings of the planets. The very first deep sky object I found with my first telescope 20 some years ago was the globular cluster Messier 13. It took me about half an hour to find it! This morning I went outside before dawn with binoculars and checked out M13 along with the other nearby bright globular clusters. It's still there.

By the way, I get a link to Jennifer's charming skywatching essays from the weekly S&T email, but I don't see them in the news feed on the website. I think more people would enjoy these articles if they were on the website.

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Jen Willis

March 8, 2022 at 6:26 pm

It's very satisfying to build on this foundation of the familiar. Thank you for your kind words.

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