Jupiter Moon

16 07 2010

Olaf walks into the cafeteria and goes through the motions of picking out his lunch for the shift.  Food selected, he starts into the eating area.  It is a windowless room about the size of a small gymnasium.  No one really pays much attention to the large photographs of Earth scenery that cover the walls, least of all Olaf. The idea behind the decorating motif is to improve employee morale and mental health by having them look at scenes from home, albeit few had ever been there. Olaf sees Frank sitting at a table with a couple of the other guys.  The look on his face betrays obvious disdain for the other guys, but considering that Frank is his best friend, he decides to sit with them.  As he approaches, he hears one of them mention the Jupiter Opposition.

He sits down and says, “I almost forgot that the Opposition was coming up.  My old battle ax at home’s got some big party dreamed up that she wants to throw.”  He ignores the eye-roll of the man to Frank’s left and continues.  “The old lady and I went to one of these Jupiter Opposition parties at a neighbor’s when we first moved here from Earth and she’s been waiting to surpass it ever since.”  Olaf shakes his head and starts picking at his food.  “I’ve never understood what the big deal is anyway,” he says between bites.  “I mean, who cares.”

“It is a big deal,” the man to Frank’s right says, pointing at him with a green grape between his fingers.  He pops it in his mouth.  “Have you seen the sky recently?”

Olaf exudes an air of boredom.  “Yeah, I’ve seen it.  So what, Jupiter doesn’t look even half as big as the moon looks when you’re on earth.”

The man dismisses Olaf’s comment with the wave of a hand.  “It’s actually about a quarter the size, but you’ve already made my point.  When you look at it, you think of the moon on Earth.  We go years and years between oppositions; when it does happen, folks get excited.  The human psyche is used to seeing a moon in the sky and out here Jupiter’s the closest thing we got. ”

“‘The human psyche is used to seeing the moon,'” Olaf says mockingly.  “What are you, some kind of psychologist?  It’s just a whole lot of psychobabble if you ask me.  All it is is just an excuse to throw a big party.  Besides isn’t it always up there?  So what if it’s at its closest on the opposition,” he says dismissively.

“Actually it isn’t always visible.”  He takes Frank’s apple and sets it in front of him on the table.  “Let’s say the apple is the sun.”  He then takes a couple of his grapes and places one about ten and the other twenty centimeters from the apple.  “And this is Jupiter and Ceres.”  Olaf rolls his eyes and continues munching on his lunch.  The man continues.  “Now, Ceres orbits the sun a little faster than Jupiter does.  So after the opposition, Ceres continues on its way around the sun gaining more and more distance from Jupiter until it disappears behind the sun.”  He moves the fruit to demonstrate the motion of the planets.  “When Ceres completes its revolution, where is Jupiter?  It’s over here.  It’s been moving this whole time and now Ceres has to play catch up.”

Olaf chuckles, picks Jupiter up and pops it in his mouth.  “Where’s Jupiter now?”  He looks at Frank with half a grin on his face.  “I got it wrong, he’s no shrink, he’s a freaking astronomer.  What’s he going to be next, a surgeon?  Hey, you want me to lie down on the table and you can perform open-heart surgery on me?”  Olaf laughs so loud that other people in the cafeteria start looking at him.  He barely notices Frank’s two companions gathering their trays and leaving the table with reddening faces.  He finally gets a grip on himself and asks Frank in a loud voice, “Where did you come up with those guys.  Ho-boy.  What a riot.”

Frank picks up the apple from the table and sets it back on his tray.  “Uh, I better go find Jonson’s boy.  I’ll see you around.”  Frank stands up and hurries to the bin where he dumps his tray and then exits the room.

Olaf shakes his head and chuckles to himself again. “Human psyche,” he says.

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