Winter’s Night Sky

Winter’s Night Sky

Today has been a clear winter’s day. Now, with the temperature falling fast will it be a good night for some star-gazing?

“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.

Photo taken in the Shetlands by Mike Pennngton

“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.

Isaiah 40:26-7


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?”

Job 38:31-33

Photo of the Milky Way

Photo by kendall hoopes from Pexels

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.

11 thoughts on “Winter’s Night Sky

  1. Like you, our skies are too light-polluted to see the vast array of the stars, but on those clear, crisp nights, Orion is one of those I can see and in the early mornings, there’s been a beautiful conjunction of the crescent moon in between Venus and Jupiter. You’ve captured the wonderful insignificance of being under the stars!

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  2. I love to go out stargazing on a winter’s night and like you, quickly begin to feel so small and insignificant. It is often so dark outside on moonless nights I can’t see my feet and get the odd sensation that I might be floating. We are fortunate here in having no streetlights but neighbouring farms keep their outside lights on all night and these produce an amazing amount of light pollution in the sky.

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  3. The night-sky has always held special interest and pull on us all and it is a blessing to see the majestic sky filled with stars. Your post is most eloquent and beautiful, conveying your awe of the stars and how ‘Though the stars don’t speak they have a quiet but powerful presence.’

    Although I live in the UK and in the far too light-polluted South-East, I am often in Sweden, staying in a cabin in the forest. There the nights are so dark, fearsome almost, but the sky is awe-inspiring, I feel awash with joy as I look upon the sky lit up by stars, and yes, at the same time I feel small and humbled. Great quotes to accompany your post, Richard and I’m saving some of these.

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      1. It is a treat, indeed and we are going out there for two weeks over Easter … it is a wonderfully eerie atmosphere in the dark, hearing the sounds from the forest, looking up at the sky. Total clarity, and not just the visual kind.

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