“My God, it’s full of stars”: rekindling that childhood awe of the night sky

September 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

the-milky-way-is-undimmed-by-outdoor-jim-richardson

The Milky Way – copyright Jim Richardson

At around four o’clock this morning I abruptly awoke with that horrible feeling of suffocation that signals an impending asthma attack.  The room felt achingly stuffy and I coughed and wheezed before sitting up and fumbling around the bedside table for my inhaler.  I moved to the open window in a bid for fresh air.  That’s when I noticed a sky positively gleaming with stars.  Concentrating on this amazing spectacle, amidst puffs of my inhaler, my breathing began to settle.

I don’t think I have seen as many stars from my bedroom window in ever.  There was no moon, just a sky punctured with stars.  I pulled a fleece on over my pj’s, put my slippers on and opened the back door of the house.  What I saw took my breath away (not literally – the asthma had been doing that pretty well).  I saw the Milky Way; our galaxy; a spectacular band of billions of stars (and planets), some appearing, and living up to the galaxy’s name, as a milky white blur along the band.  Words cannot describe how beautiful it was – possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  As I looked around The Plough looked as close to Earth as I have ever seen it; Betelgeuse, the red supergiant on the shoulder of Orion, brightly glowed pink and to the left of Orion, Jupiter shone so amazingly bright.  I saw Pegasus, Andromeda and Cassiopeia, shooting stars and copious satellites.  I stood in awe for a very long time until, eventually, cold, tiredness and a sore neck intervened, forcing me to go back to bed.  I could still see stars peeping in my window as I lay under the duvet; they began to fade with the rising sun, though it hadn’t yet breached the horizon.

I don’t ever remember seeing the Milky Way as a kid (unless, of course, you count the chocolate bar, which was quite familiar to me) and I don’t ever remember seeing as many stars, growing up in town.  Now, in the country, where the light pollution is minimal, amazing spectacles like the one I saw early this morning are probably commonplace.  Yet, it seems I am too busy, too cold, getting into the car, or watching TV, and don’t make the effort to look as often as I should.  It took an asthma attack to rouse me from my bed, forcing me to look out of my window before I saw it, otherwise I may have missed it entirely.  Looking up at that starry sky, in the night-time silence, I honestly felt that same excitement of childhood – ecstatic at seeing stars and planets with my own eyes; feeling alone, yet wondering if there is anyone else out there; simultaneously feeling part of something bigger and infinitely beautiful; wishing I was an astronaut, or an astronomer.  Maybe we should all take the time to stop, look up there and just appreciate how amazing it is, and we really are.  When was the last time you really looked?

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