So get this…the U.S. Naval Observatory does tours.
We discovered this little bit of information a few months ago. The tours are offered very irregularly, but it’s well worth the effort and wait. We were able to book this past Monday night.
And of course after like 80 days of sunshine the day started gloomy and damp. Typical Washington weather…it’s only gorgeous when you’re already busy. Or is it. Magically the skies cleared just about a half hour before our tour.
I was really amped for this, mainly because I’m a huge nerd. But, I also let my imagination get the better of me. I had this vision of hanging out with Joe Biden, drinking beers looking through a telescope.
There was no beer. There was no Biden. But there were telescopes.
The tour winds through the original telescope building. After a chat about the history of the Naval Observatory (and why it exists in the first place) they walk you into the library. It’s a beautiful circular room with thousands of books lining the walls and a fountain in the center. I felt smarter just being inside the room. Four titles lay beneath a glass case near the middle of the room, books written by guys with names like Galileo and Newton. Original copies. ORIGINAL.
The nerd baptism ceremony continues with an elevator trip to the telescope. A 12″ Alvan Clark refracting telescope pointed through an open slot in the dome roof. The planets weren’t out yet for us, so we peered through time at a binary star system of blue and gold. I wanted to keep staring, but this was a tour after all.
A dark walk later we were back in a room full of clocks, placed in chronological order. It’s a history of keeping time. And that’s when it hits you, this is a working monument dedicated to space and time. The relationship between the two becomes clear in this place where astronomical observations were critical to keeping perfect time for the Navy.
I’ll leave you with the best line of the tour: “Time is the thing that we probably measure most. And it’s the thing we know the least about.”