July/August 1998 Table of Contents
me, sir, but are you here for the big meeting?" I was tired and
replied with a question: "You mean the astronomy meeting?" Jose
Carlos, announced by the fellow's hotel nametag, answered with increasing
excitement. "Oh, yes, sir, the meeting of the all the people to
talk about the stars and planets and what's out there."
eight hundred astronomers had gathered in San Diego, California,
for the summer meeting of the American Astronomical Society. There
were announcements and presentations of all sorts-the first image
from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, observations through the Milky
Way's Zone of Avoidance of heretofore unobserved galaxies, tales
of planet-stripping by swollen red giants, even word of the newest
stellar spectral class, L. These and so many other things, the kinds
of things that make you gallop home to get to work on your own research.
I paused and listened to Jose Carlos. My meal was getting cold,
but here was someone who was excited. "You know, I was sitting with
my friends a few days ago, and we were talking, and I asked them
about what they thought was going on up there." The cadence of his
speech accented the notion of something unseen above our heads.
"But all they said was, 'Jose Carlos, you think too much.' " He
had been looking at me, but now he shifted closer and spoke lower.
"What do you think about this stuff." Stuff? So much I could say
about what all the years of education and work have taught me -
facts, equations, scarps, hydrostatic equilibrium, relaxation timescales,
helium flashes, hot flashes ... and I was having one. This man wanted
to know about the stuff.
do you mean?" I asked.
you believe there are other things like us?" This question normally
illicits from me a guarded response. Large-number statistics, numbers
of dwarf stars, water as a plentiful ingredient, blah blah blah.
I do." There, I said it succinctly. That was what this man wanted
to hear. Oh, we then spent three or four minutes going over some
of his and my reasoning, but that opened us to other topics. How
large is this universe? "I mean, it's just too big, you know?" How
do we study the universe? "How do we know what's going on out there?"
cadence in Jose Carlos's speech too us to his final question. "Hey,
do you think something really crashed out there in the desert?"
Oh, no, I thought, as visions of Mulder and alien museums and grainy,
forged saucers swept through me, but then I drew myself back up.
This was just as good a question as any other.
mean outside Roswell, New Mexico? Yes, yes, I do. But do I think
it was a spaceship from another world? No, I guess I don't." Jose
Carlos looked saddened for a moment, and then he spoke.
but I bet you wish it had." He grinned, thanked me for my time,
and I replied that the pleasure was mine. And as I pushed the door
closed behind him, I tried to visualize him with his friends, sitting
and talking. About life and love and, for him, what's out there.
I left my office this evening, I looked skyward and saw nothing
but darkness. A warm mist fell, and I tried to imagine that which
lay abouve the murk. The stuff of Jose Carlos. The questions of
existence, of meaning, they are in us all. Teased out by twinkling
stars and crescent Moons.
C. White II, Editor