Thursday, August 23, 2007

Starry Sky

It's been a long time since I've seen the night sky without the glare of city lights. During my stay in rural Oregon I managed to catch a glimpse of the night sky in all its unadulterated glory. It was awe-inspiring. The starry sky looked so magnificent, so enormous, that I felt infinitesimal. As an astrophysicist, I think about vast scales all the time; but it's one thing to look dispassionately at a number on a computer screen -- some particular star in the sky may be at a humble distance of 10 parsecs, roughly 300 trillion kilometers, from the Earth -- and quite another to cast your eyes upon that star amid a thousand others in the sky and ponder that distance in human terms. For the first time in ages, I truly felt a part of something unfathomably large.

I was suddenly struck by how natural a belief in God (or gods) must have been for people in earlier times, before city lights diminished the view. The night sky offers so much perspective. These people were perhaps faced with the nightly reality that they were ever so tiny, themselves floating on a mere speck of dust in an infinite and awesome cosmos. Such a view makes the universe seem like a miraculous place even to this scientist. It was nevertheless a comforting view, somehow, though Oliver Wendell Jones might disagree. All I can say is, no wonder people look up when they think of Heaven.


Blogger Russell said...

I'm enamored with modern society, I think we have a lot of really nice things, and modern cities are a wondr'us place to be, but!

I really miss the night sky.

I've been a few places (the high Uintas, for example) where the sky is everything at night. The Earth and her features fade away to small, small area right around you, and the only thing you can do is to look up and see infinity and get lost.

It's something I miss in our cities.

8/24/2007 9:06 AM  
Anonymous Robb Allen said...

I've seen that sky before. The brilliant stars, unmolested by city lights. You can even almost see the faint gas clouds of the milky way if you stare long enough.

Then, here at home, where I live beneath a streetlight, I see the same sky without all its beauty. I know it's there, I just can't see it.

And it drives me mad.

8/24/2007 9:15 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...


I'm with you. Love modernity for the most part, but not everything about it. By the way, I drove through Ogden two days ago and thought it was nice. Do you live anywhere near there?


I, too, live under a streetlight. It sucks bigtime.

Seeing the Milky Way is always a neat experience. Next time you're out in the boonies in the winter, see if you can find Andromeda. It's the only galaxy visible to the naked eye in the northern hemisphere.

8/24/2007 10:00 PM  
Blogger Russell said...

Ogden is about an hour north of where I live. You should have let me know you were passing through, we could have done a meal or something.

Did you take I-15 to I-84 to I-80?

8/27/2007 8:41 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Yes, that's the route I took. It was bad weather going from Ogden into WY and quite nerve-wracking on that windy stretch of freeway.

Anyway, I didn't even think to give you a heads-up about that. Shoot. Well, we have friends in SLC, so next time we're in the area I'll definitely email you.

8/27/2007 9:58 PM  

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