Thursday, January 22, 2009
There's plenty of light pollution hereabouts, with more creeping in all the time, but our nights are still dark enough that we sometimes get a really spectacular sky full of stars, and a clear view of the Milky Way. It happens mostly in winter, the only time the air is dry enough to be completely clear. As much as I hate the cold, I love standing outside on a January night, putting a crick in my neck as I try to pick out the constellations. That was one of the things I missed most during my city-dwelling years.
I grew up during the height of our national space mania. There was constant blather on television and in school about exploring the vast distances of the universe. The emphasis was always on "vast." This seemed to be the one aspect of space that teachers and NASA propagandists figured would sell: It's big, children. Seriously--big.
In spite of all that early brainwashing, I almost never think of the enormity of space when I look up at the stars. A dark, clouded sky on a moonless night--now that does make me feel like a tiny speck floating alone in an immense universe. But a night filled with twinkling lights makes the earth seem cozy to me, and complete in itself. The fact that those stars are very far away is something I can only register as an abstraction. My fanciful self says they are right here with me, like a crowd of slightly giddy friends who've shown up to celebrate something.
NASA photo of the Milky Way, taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope, from Wikimedia Commons.