Winter nights are understandably cold, sometimes even bitter cold. Yet on those bitter-cold nights when the sky is clear, the universe opens up to us in its glory.
A holiday gift of a star chart recently helped to open my eyes to the heavens above us. My gazing starts as I exit my front door on my way to the train to catch the 5:37 out of Port Jervis. Our barn is across the street, and on the way to my truck I stop and look up. In the dark I am astonished by what lies above us. One of the joys of living here in the Upper Delaware Valley is the lack of city lights to spoil the view.
The best nights are when there is no moon rising or a new moon, as it’s called. The star chart is cool, although you always have to get your orientation from something like the Big Dipper, and it only helps in identifying the many constellations and group of stars that form the easiest to identify. This is only a fleeting hobby for me, and I must admit I do enjoy the education I can get from a true stargazer who actually knows what they are looking for.
Growing up, I was a Boy Scout and had a good friend, Mike, who knew the stars like the back of his hands. He would spend many a winter camping trip with a group of us away from the campfire, all bundled up, showing us all he knew. As we grew older, his knowledge increased and so did the length of his talks. We city boys had never seen the night sky as we learned to see it through Mike’s eyes on those trips.
I believe things happen for a reason, and for better or worse some rush project at work recently had me on the 5:07 morning train for a while. From time to time, standing on the platform, I would chat up one of the regulars on this early morning train. His name was Jim; often the discussion would turn to looking up on a clear night. Jim also knew the stars like the back of his hand and could easily point out the various planets as well. This time of year it’s easy to find Mars and Jupiter with the right guide. Jim was a real vault of knowledge, and once on the train we would discuss missions to Mars and the latest launch from Space X. Many of the exciting things that lie ahead will not happen in my lifetime, but speculating about the future is exciting nonetheless.
When I was growing up, watching President Kennedy talk about putting a man on the moon seemed as far-fetched as an idea could get. Watching that idea come to life was amazing indeed, as was watching a shuttle launch live in Florida years later. Looking up one can see the satellites float in space, observe shooting stars and more with just the naked eye.
Not to worry if the winter is just too cold for stargazing, summer will be just around the corner and the skies will open up for us again. All you need to do is look up.