Today has been a clear winter’s day. Now, with the temperature falling fast will it be a good night for some star-gazing?
“Watching the full starred heavens that winter sees.”
I put on my coat and gloves and go out into the garden to look up at the night sky, inspired by Hardy’s line from his poem ‘Afterwards’. But I am going to be disappointed.
The stars, still and silent, are a noiseless witness to a noisy and frenetic world. The trouble is I’m enveloped in a film of man-made light trapping me inside this artificially illuminated world. I look for stars and all I can see is streetlight glare blinding me to the vast universe out there in space.
As my eyes begin to get accustomed to the light I can see stars immediately overhead. Looking up to the north I hope to see the unmistakable shape of the Plough constellation, or the Great Bear, as it points to the Pole Star, Polaris. This star has guided men across the world’s oceans ever since man began his travels.
I look too for the great constellation of Orion, The Mighty Hunter, which should now be visible in the south west making its way majestically across the horizon with the brightest star, Sirius (the Dog Star) following at Orion’s heels. Orion is clearly visible from November-February, the brightest and most beautiful of the northern winter constellations. Some of its stars, including Betelgeuse (visibly red) and Rigel, are among the brightest in the sky.
Childhood memories come flooding back of clear nights trying to identify the different constellations. Watching for the plough and seeing Orion move across the sky. Then identifying that faint cluster of the Pleiades and experiencing the excitement of seeing one of Jupiter’s moons with an old ex WW2 army telescope.
“We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale; spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence.”
― Charlotte Brontë, in ‘Jane Eyre’
Today as I peer and gaze upwards statistics begin to fill my mind: trillions of light years, galaxies within galaxies, star nebulae and black holes! Otherness is here in vast measure. Though the stars don’t speak they have a quiet but powerful presence. It is numbingly cold out here but it is my mind that is numb. It crashes out with an overload of figures and facts. The vastness of the universe bewilders and humbles me, cutting me down to size. It is so great and I am so small! Majestic, over-powering grandeur hovers over me in the night sky. I feel very small and insignificant.
“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens.
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls then each by name.“
“Can you bind the Pleiades, can you loose the cords of Orion, can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead the Bear with his cubs? Do you know the law of the heavens?”
This photo of the Milky Way brings back memories of sleeping in the open under the stars in a developing country overseas. The clear un-polluted skies in a hot climate make for ideal stargazing conditions. I need to find a better place for more sky-watching next time!
“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.” Bill Watterson
Being out here under the winter’s night sky certainly does put the world with its pettiness and problems into perspective. If it were not so cold I would like to stay out here longer to meditate on these facts, but I return indoors all the better for the experience. It has been deeply comforting. The universe is not in our control but in the safe hands of our awesome Creator and so is my life and destiny.