The Night Sky:
(Click for Audio) It was after 10 pm and I stepped out the back door to enjoy the darkness of the yard, the cooler temps, and the night sky. There was a bright star shining about the same place it had been the previous night. I was sure it was planet, only my memory of the night sky scenery was vague… Mars? Venus? Mercury? Jupiter? They brightly show up every so often and are normally noted in the east or the west, it seems, and I know the other planets probably make an appearance if I only knew what I was looking at!
But this one shining body was due South. Albeit, getting higher in the sky, maybe 45-60 degrees above the horizon…
So, I reloaded my Night Sky and Sky Guide apps on my iPad and took a tour of the heavenlies.
I snapped some pictures of the screen and the images show the horizon, direction, and the unseen heavens beneath the visible range of the sky, and those that are simply too far off or dim to make a bright appearance. For just a few minutes I realized how strange it must have been for early man to look at the same sky I was looking at, and have no earthly idea what they were seeing. We take the night sky for granted because we know what we are looking at. Heavenly bodies that are a gazillion miles away. Their lights have been shining so brightly for an amount of time that we cannot even conceptualize.
Every night the stars slowly evolve as the sky darkens. We expect it, and without an interest in what we see, we are content to slowly let the night sky simply be something that is there. But wait. Did you not know that there are always stars in the sky? Get high enough out of the visible light spectrum and you will find an entirely different set of stars than you saw during the night.
That’s why my Night Sky app is so fascinating. When I point the iPad to the floor it gives me a screen image of what the other side of the planet is seeing in their sky. Only, it’s daylight there! And they cannot see the stars due to the shining sun.
I’ve never taken an astronomy class, or studied the star fields at length, but it must be a fascinating study – if only I had the time, math and science skills, and memory skills! Time, because there is so much there, and so much more of my current life directs me elsewhere. Math, because it’s hard to understand distance without speaking an entirely different language. Science because there’s more to what you see than what you see, and you need some deep understanding of molecular structure, colors and hues, gasses, chemicals…probably an endless list. Memory, well, there are literally more stars than you can shake a stick at and you have to learn how to memorize and utilize the names of those in front of you, as well as those unseen with the naked eye!
And, though I did not mention imagination, there is something to be said of the ancients telling the stories and myths of the creatures that are hidden in the star patterns. There are stories we will never know because they were shared around a campfire, and many were made up on the spot and never entered into legend.
This makes me wonder about David’s comment in the Psalms. I wonder how much they knew, those nearly 3,000 years ago. What faith they had to acknowledge their lack of understanding!
“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? ” (Psalms 8:3-4 NKJV)
Scientist want to see as far into the night sky as possible. Bigger, better and more powerful telescopes to see as far away as possible. The further away, they believe, will show the signs of the formation of the universe.
Last night, to the north and west, the sun is fading and the sky is deepening. I watch 3 stars slowly brighten, almost due north, appearing to be on a path from east to west. My app could not easily tell me what they were without some intricate tuning of the screen, and my big hand kept getting in the way! If only I had the time to watch them evolve into their night time glory. What could I learn from their dazzling beauty?
Time does not allow me to share the “Star Light, Star Bright, First Star I See Tonight” memory, or Mr Doolittle’s teaching in 8th grade science, or the astronauts we saw in the neighborhood who would some day see more than anyone else alive would ever see.
“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet.
Try to make sense of what you see,
and wonder about what makes the universe exist.