Through the eyepiece of an optical telescope, you see something right in front of you, and your brain says, there it is: a jellybean, four feet away. Of course, Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth and far-flung as it gets, but that doesn’t compute. It might be the farthest thing you’ll ever see, but it looks so close, and in the absence of contextual clues, the ordinary functioning of perspective fires and misses.
And so your awe is self-inflicted. Your awe is one you name to yourself. You almost have to say it out loud, “that’s Neptune,” forcing the cognitive dissonance into place. Once there, accepting that your mind has seen farther than biological limitation is its own challenge; the implications take their time unfolding.
Also see: A naked-eye tour of the night sky.
Looking back on 2012, there were dramatic moments, to be sure: the vindication of Obamacare; the electoral triumph of the forty-seven per cent; the rise and fall of Gangnam style. But just as defining, I’d argue, were the year’s countless half-starts and baby steps. By that, I mean the national…