And so, I saw it.
In mid-October Shreveport enjoyed a couple of decently clear days, interspersed with a couple of decently clear nights. Occasionally I'd take Rosy's binoculars and try to peer through the glare to the northeast -- find Polaris and Cassiopeia, and the astronomical prize lurking, I'd been told, just port of the line between them. But the glare from Shrivelport and Bosssier City was too much. No sign of Messier 31 -- the Andromeda galaxy.
But I wasn't about to give up. I have a Robert Gendler photo of Andromeda as wallpaper on my work computer. The fact that it is the furthest and the largest thing visible to the naked eye turns me on. Not only that, but it's a galaxy, much like our own -- I've wanted to see it for years. I'd been kicking myself that I didn't look for it that night we passed through Death Valley en route to Las Vegas. We even brought our telescope to OutSideCon in the vain hope that I'd be able to seek it there.
So on one of our nicer nights, I took Rosy out to park on a lonely country road south of the city. There was a time when I'd've had better things on my mind than looking at the stars, but I'm old now and look at the stars I did. Bright, jagged Cassiopeia was easy to find in the northeast. I scanned the area through Rosy's binocs. Nothing. Still too much glare.
All right, then, damn it. If south of the city puts too much Bossier City between me and Andromeda, I'd put it behind me! The next night, I again bundled Rosy into the car, glanced once more at my star map, and drove to the sticks well north of Shreveport, Bossier, and their annoying lights. But we still had trouble finding a dark area to look from -- we found a promising site adjacent to a golf course, but I sensed suspicion from the residents nearby. Folks park there on dark nights for healthier reasons than galaxy-hunting.
Rosy wondered why I hadn't contacted an astronomy club at LSU-Shreveport, or at least found a nice dark public park for my observations. Stung by her Vulcan logic, I headed home in defeat -- but stopped for one last try at a church parking lot. True, it was lamentably well lit -- but the view to the northeast was clear.
Looking through the binocs, I found that the glare in my immediate vicinity wasn't much of a problem. I could make out dimmer stars with relative ease. So okay ... there was Cassiopeia, shaped like an irregular W ... if I followed a line through one of its Vs ... it should be just about ... there.
In the earliest description of the Andromeda galaxy, the Arab astronomer Abd Al-Rahman Al Sufi called it "a little cloud." I saw something that looked like that -- a little cloud, a featureless oval smear in the sky. I adjusted the binocs. I'd been fooled before by clusters of stars that sharpened into individual points of light when I messed with the focus. This time ... this time it stayed "a little cloud." A little cloud composed of hundreds of millions of stars, two and a half million light-years away.
"Huh!" I said. "There it is."
And I could be sure, if probability means anything in this universe, that to a mathematical certainly intelligent beings live there. Someone was looking back at me. I waved. 2.5 million years from now, maybe he'll wave back.