Wow... that's really all I can say.
Tonight, Rebecca (friend from work) and I got paid $250 each to drag a few telescopes up to Possum Kingdom lake and show some rich old farts a few cool objects in the night sky while some real-estate moguls wined and dined them into purchasing their second or third million dollar homes. I can't say that I'd buy from them, but I'd definitely like a ranch or a lakehouse out here, at least before it gets totally yuppi-fied. (prolly too late, I know).
Anyway, Rebecca talked about the astronomy department and McDonald Observatory, and I gave a short tour of the summer sky (i.e. constellations, visible planets, scale of the solar system/galaxy). I managed to work in a short plug for my old A&M days, and I got a few whoops and a few cat-calls from some red raiders. After it got dark enough, we pointed the scopes at the sky and showed them some cool things (Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, basically). Let me tell you, drunk people are rather entertaining to try to explain astronomy to them. Well... for a while... then, after the 4th time you show them where the north star is, they just get annoying.
Anyway, they wrapped everything up by 10:30, so we had to clear out. As it had been a long time since both of us had seen a decent sky, we went back to the hotel, stocked up on some bugspray and some red flashlights, and headed out down highway 16, until we got tired of driving and pulled off the side of the road.
When we got out of the car, we both started laughing almost hysterically... I have NEVER EVER seen a sky so dark. The Milky Way just pops out and smacks you in the face. We set up the Dobsonian telescope and took out a few binoculars. Jupiter was so bright, it almost hurt your eyes to look through the scope at it. I could see globular clusters with my naked eye. I now know more constellations than I ever knew existed, and can cross at least 10-15 Messier Objects off my list.
The Milky Way is really something. It's not something I can put into words. It's more than beautiful, it's more than humbling. I've never seen the milky way as clearly as I did tonight. We could even see the dust lanes. I was simply dumbstruck. Just looking with binoculars, I could see all sorts of cool stuff in the sky, and we were able to find quite a few of them with the scope. By far the coolest time I've ever spent stargazing.
If you've never seen the milky way, GO! Go to a DARK location. Preferably 60-70 miles away from any sort of civilization. Go to Ft. Davis. Go to Possum Kingdom Lake. Go anywhere.
I've never been more excited to be an astronomer. You guys don't know what you're missing out on.