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. 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.
This past year 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. 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 the Aurora Boealis, several lunar eclipses and a blood moon, two comets, and a meteorite that lit up the night sky like daylight, and have 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 see Jupiter, or the Milky Way, or even the moon, I feel a sometimes overwhelming emotional tug of pleasure and am awestruck. The sheer distance and age, the wonder, the possibility of other life out there that humans will probably never know about, the beginning and the end of the universe -- I see it all and think, wow!
There's a Rally going on right now, which we're attending, so fewer RVillage friends participated this week, understandably. But we received a few very good responses and here are some of them that I received (I've edited or paraphrased some):
Ed of AZ- The basic human condition is the finite human being confronted by the infinite cosmos. The night sky is where we peer most deeply into that mystery, which is why virtually all religions place God in the sky. The fact that the sky is so ever-present and so beautiful to behold is a source of both comfort and inspiration.
LarandSus- It reminds me of my childhood when we'd put on our snowsuits and lay on our backs in the snow looking up at the sky to find constellations and when it was so much easier to see a dark night sky when camping.
rvericksons- We were lucky enough to view the 2017 total solar eclipse, in central Oregon.
Bruce & Linda (Omnibus)- As a pre-teen, I was very interested in both astronomy and Greek mythology (as it related to the stars). I had a small telescope, and during the summer months (no school) I used to “camp out” in the back yard in a reclining lawn chair and try to wrap my head around the idea of the infinite. At the end of my 7th decade, I still gaze at a starlit, dark night sky with wonder and try to comprehend the infinity of space.
SouthParkSteve- There is nothing like watching a meteor shower at high altitude away from city lights in an area with no humidity. It's nature's fireworks! During the winter, I love being outside on a clear night with a full moon in a snow covered valley. The moon shines so bright, it casts shadows. It can be as bright as daylight. During the summer, the best nights are the ones with NO moon. The stars seem so close, it is almost like a twinkling ceiling. If you lie back and just stare, you can often see satellites flying overhead.....
John And Debbie M.- The best sky view is on a boat away from all land and polluting lights . We were coming home from Columbia to Florida on sailboat the southern star followed us for days. Beautiful. Our universe is so massive there must be more out there.
Nadyne H.- I don't often stare up at the night sky, but when I do it is from our bed, out my bedside window. If I have a view of the moon, I can't stop looking....
I'll close with a quote from British scientist Martin Rees: "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."
Please feel free to add your own comments and memories below!
Jack Huber is a writer, blogger, poet and photographer. Like many, he is concerned about the psyche of our planet's inhabitants and wants to try to improve his little corner of it.