What the Night Sky has Meant to Me
Last updated 4/28/2023 at 10:28am
When I was nine years of age, my parents, knowing my budding interest in science, gave me a book titled "All About the Planets," by Patricia Lauber, written in 1960. I recently found a copy of this book through an antique bookseller, and found the part of the book that changed the course of my life. It was the chapter on the planet Mars.
In this chapter, the author discusses the very real possibility of life on Mars. She presents the evidence for this using what was known at the time about the planet. It was while reading this chapter that I had the "ah ah!" moment of really grasping that I lived on a world, a planet, whirling through space. I also now understood that there were other worlds, planets also whirling through space that were very different from mine. That these worlds might harbor living things of their own, life that might be very different from the life familiar to me as a creature of the Earth totally captivated me! I voraciously read the rest of the book.
Towards the end, the author also discusses our Sun as a star and that other suns were everywhere in the universe. That those suns might have planets of their own fascinated me! The number of planets in the universe and all that implied was, well, astronomical!
Once I grasped in my little way some of these basic facts about the universe, I had to see the stars with my own eyes, particularly knowing what I now did. This was 1962, and from our backyard in the borough of Brooklyn, in the City of New York, I could see hundreds of stars! I couldn't quite see the Milky Way, but I was able to learn the patterns of all the constellations. I could even see a few shooting stars now and then, and understanding something about what I was seeing was thrilling to my nine year old self.
That house in which I grew up still stands, but if you stood in the backyard of that house now and looked up at the night sky you would see nothing, nothing but an angry glowing sky, an electromagnetic fog through which only the moon and perhaps Venus and Jupiter were visible. This is of course due to light pollution.
Leaving that issue aside, after I learned to navigate my way around the night sky, I had to build a telescope! My first little three inch reflecting telescope was not much to behold, but when it showed me the craters on the moon and the rings of Saturn, I was completely and utterly hooked on all things astronomical.
And now leaving science behind, I want to tell you what the stars have meant to me in the emotional and spiritual realm.
When I was 12, my best friend died of lymphoma and I spent much of the night after his last day on earth in our backyard looking up at the stars (incredibly, it was a clear night). Something about the immensity of the sky brought me some comfort. I don't know what it was that gave me this sense of comfort, but I found it "up there" and it was sorely needed. Many years later, on the night of 9/11, I spent hours photographing the stars. Once again I found some easing of the pain.
Throughout my life, I have found this comfort and serenity when I see a sky filled with stars. The constellations are like dear old friends, but unlike my earthly friends and myself, they haven't aged a day since I first learned their patterns!
Watching my old friends being erased from the sky by the juggernaut of light pollution that seems to have no end breaks my heart. Those stars have meant so much to me over the last 61 years that I'd like to give something back to them.
Supporting the Dark Sky movement is just one little thing I can do. I can never say "thank you" enough to Orion the hunter or Gemini the twins or Leo the Lion or any of my "star friends" to repay the debt I owe them for the comfort, serenity and joy they have given me over these many years.