Archive for February 11th, 2023

It’s not always bad news…

Reason #6- The Celestial Sky

From the time I first starting reading, I was looking through astronomy textbooks.  I remember seeing a photograph of Mars and its maze of straight lines, thought to be canals.  We now know, of course, that it was a false image.  But it fascinated me.  When I was a pre-teen, I made my own telescope out of a cardboard tube, tape and a couple of lenses I saved my allowance to buy.  It actually worked OK, until it fell apart.  Once in high school, I visited the planetarium at Griffith Park in Los Angeles as often as I could.

After I became a family man and moved to Washington State, I bought my own telescope, expensive at the time, and was amazed at the actual sight of Jupiter with four of its moons and Saturn and its rings, though they were in a flat plane at the time.  My problem was that without an expensive actuator to move the device along with the sky’s movement, objects only stayed in my field of view for a few moments.  A few years later, living in Colorado, I always enjoyed visiting our friends in rural Wyoming, where on clear summer nights far removed from any city light, the Milky Way was so brilliant that we couldn’t make out the constellations.

During one of our outings in Colorado, we were camped in a remote RV resort about 75 miles from the nearest city lights and the Milky Way again was visible.  There was an amateur astronomer camping in the park and one night he set up his equipment for any of us to view.  We saw Jupiter, this time with five moons visible, Uranus’ striped globe, Saturn’s awesome rings tilted down at 45 degrees, and some nebulae and spiral galaxies.  It was an amazing night that nearly brought me to tears.

“Celestial sky” can be defined as the sky between dusk and dawn during the time stars and other celestial objects can be seen.  Sunshine, obviously, makes it impossible to see stars and planets, but you’d be surprised to see how much difference being away from the city can make, and even having a new moon or no moon can make the sky astounding.  There are several exciting phone apps you can now use to decipher the stars and planets above you, even those in the sky during the day, when they are invisible.  I use StarTracker, but there are others.

In my life I have seen the Aurora Boealis, several lunar eclipses and a blood moon, a nearly full solar eclipse, two comets, and a meteorite that lit up the night sky like daylight — I have even taken my kids to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower — all with awe.  The bottom line is that when I contemplate what I am seeing when I view Jupiter, the Milky Way or even the moon, I feel an emotional tug of pleasure, sometimes overwhelming, and am awestruck.  The sheer distance and age, the wonder, the possibility of other intelligent life out there that humans will probably never discover, the beginning and the end of the universe — I see it all and think, wow!


I’ll close this topic with a quote from British scientist Martin Rees, who wrote, “Indeed, the night sky is the part of our environment that’s been common to all cultures throughout human history. All have gazed up at the ‘vault of heaven’ and interpreted it in their own way.

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