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The Moon in My Palm

Re-posted from My Head is in the Stars by ASP Astronomy Educator Vivian White.

Original posting date: October 3, 2014


I started this post claiming that the questions from the monks have been my favorite part of teaching. But I had to revise. By far the best part of this trip so far was showing 20+ monks and nuns their first view through a telescope. It was mostly hazy but we looked at the moon and it was magical. Instead of the usual wow! and ooooh!, they made this small throaty grunt and then hisstled through their teeth. Some of the comments:

  • I feel I could hold it here, in my palm.
  • I wanted to write a poem about the beautiful moon. But I see it is so empty. I like the earth much better with birds and trees. I shall write a poem about this instead.
  • It looks smooth like glass. Do the astronauts slip?
  • Have you been to the moon?

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We couldn’t have observed on a better night. Today in class we talked about how the moon changes shape. The monks held the common misconception that Earth’s shadow causes phases. The Tibetan culture follows a lunar calendar, so there was no confusion about how long it took the Moon to orbit the Earth. We modeled the sun, moon, and earth system with a bright light and small balls. Even having to take turns in a room that was slightly too bright, this activity was joyfully received, with the “ahhas!” transcending translation.

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Yesterday, teaching wore me out so much that I barely made it to dinner. Today I’ve been energized. The rest of India is celebrating Dussehra with copious fireworks and the thick haze crept up the valley and covered the moon by 8:30. I’ll take my cue and turn in. I get up early tomorrow to make dough for another moon activity. I may have lugged a telescope and 40 bowls halfway around the globe but there was no way I was bringing 15 lbs of play-doh too.

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