The fog has lifted and the evening air has stolen in, wrapping the mountain and the desert below in a deep chill. Thirteen of us, warmly dressed in layers although it is the middle of spring and the day was hot, are huddled quietly around a small telescope in a drafty observatory, waiting for our view of the cosmos. With a grinding rumble, the roof above us opens and rotates slowly until a slice of night sky and a single bright point have been chosen. One by one we look: Venus, magnified about 130 times, appears as a slender, glowing crescent.
As the night darkens, more planets and stars become visible, despite the bleaching glow of a full moon. We see Jupiter's cloud bands--faint pink, like the inside of a lady slipper shell--and two of its moons, the binary star Castor, many star clusters, the blinding face of our disruptive moon, some of the stars in the Trapezium of the wispy Orion Nebula, and a spiral galaxy. For several hours we watch the sky change as Earth turns. And twice we look at Saturn, unreal in its beautiful perfection, so solid and at the same time so delicate. "This is pretty much the best object in the sky," says Flynn Haase, an amateur astronomer and this evening's guide. "I usually keep it as the finale object."