Stargazing: Finding Yourself in the Stars
The largest diamond reserve we know of is worth very approximately $29,600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000—a $26.9 nonillion planet named 55 Cancri e that some scientists believe is made mostly of diamonds. In comparison, Earth’s estimated GDP comes out to a mere $81 trillion or so. Unfortunately, 55 Cancri e is 40 light years away from Earth—far beyond the range of travel for our normal spacecraft and out of sight for our normal telescopes.
By the end of this post, I hope to help you to see the night sky a little differently, to rekindle a touch of awe for the majesty of the heavens—or, at least, to convince you that the universe is simply awesome.
So, we’ve made it past the solstice and are officially into summer with warmer nights and clearer skies—perfect conditions for stargazing. As an amateur but avid astronomer, I’ve always had a tendency to look up at night. There’s just something pristinely beautiful about a dark sky painted with stars. They are constant, quiet, and calming.
Of course, some people are a bit cynical of stargazing. They may say, “you’re just staring at a bunch of little white specks”—the ultimate boredom. Quite frankly, I feel sorry for these people. In a world of 24/7 access to every conceivable form of digital entertainment to stuff your brain and glaze your eyes over with mindless staring, stargazing is a bit of a lost art. Let me be clear; I love a good movie night or playing a round of Smash Bros. with my siblings, but I also love an all-too-rare quiet night resting under the stars.
There’s a reason stargazing isn’t called starstaring, starlooking, or starwatching. There’s something about stars that makes you gaze at them with awe and wonder. To the skeptics, I hope you’ll bear with me if I get a touch poetic here; I believe what I’m saying. When you understand what you’re truly looking at when you look up at the night sky, you can’t help but be filled with deep awe. When the blue curtains of the sky are pulled away, you are literally looking through a window into space—the universe with its stars, galaxies, and countless mysteries. It is the ultimate 360° IMAX screen with supremely high-definition. There are no costs, no ads, and no cellular connection needed. The stars are simply always there.
When you gaze at the night sky, you are also looking at a living record of the past. The objects you see are various distances from the earth, many of them measured in light-years, or the distance light travels in one year. In other words, when you see the Andromeda Galaxy, which is some 2 million light-years away from Earth, you are looking over 2 million years into the past. The light you are seeing left the galaxy long, long before Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the Moon, before Galileo discovered Jupiter’s largest moons, before the Egyptians built the pyramids, before human civilization. Even more remarkable, the Hubble Space telescope has seen stars 5 billion light years away—before the Earth, the Sun, or our solar system even existed.
Speaking of distances, let’s talk about another wonderful aspect of stargazing: perspective. When you understand the vast enormity of the universe, looking at the stars puts you, your troubles, your problems, and your life into perspective.
When I wrote my first draft of this journal entry, I had a long paragraph with a whole bunch of numbers explaining how massively gargantuanly humongous the universe was, but then I found a video that is far more visually impressive. It’s just under seven minutes long (three and a half on double speed), and I would invite you to watch it here, keeping in mind your size on Earth. Don’t forget to return back here when you’re finished.
The universe is pretty big.You are looking at a piece of this incomprehensible enormity when you stargaze. With this perspective, the stars make you think. Here you are, a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny speck in a vast cosmic sphere. Such a thought makes me pause. What’s the point of you and I being here if we are so unbelievably small? What possible impact can a single person like you or me have among the size of the stars?
Whatever your beliefs, I think that as you gaze upon the stars, you will sense the truth that you do have a deeper purpose and worth. You are not simply an insignificant, coincidental blip in the 13.8 billion year lifetime of the universe. As for what your exact purpose and worth is, I will let the stars—and your heart—speak for themselves.
Here are some practical tips for stargazing:
- Pick a night to stargaze, and be prepared to stay up late. Stargazing can be an excellent family activity, date night, or simply a reflective time to ponder your life.
- Check the weather. Nothing ruins stargazing quite like an overcast night and rainfall. You’ll have to be flexible in your scheduling.
- If possible, find a spot away from city lights like on mountains, in the countryside, or in the open wilderness. It’s also better to stargaze when the moon is in a new or crescent stage. The less external light interfering, the more brilliant the stars will be. If you’re not a fan of hiking or camping, you can experiment with different places and find what works best for you. For example, you may have a friend with a home away from the city, and you could easily stargaze in his backyard.
- I find it most comfortable to set up some reclining chairs or spread blankets on the ground for stargazing. You’ll probably want to bring a jacket or extra blankets to keep warm.
- There are a variety of things you can do next. You can set up a pair of binoculars on a tripod, find a friend with a telescope, or simply gaze at the stars with your eyes. If you do the latter, you can use one of many stargazing apps to see the names of the stars you are looking at, find planets, or even spot satellites like the International Space Station moving by. Even with a relatively inexpensive telescope, you may be able to see some of Jupiter’s Galilean moons or Saturn's rings. One of my favorite activities to do with my family, however, is to watch meteor showers. During specific times of the year, you can go out on a clear night and hopefully see many more shooting stars than usual. The next major meteor shower is Perseids, which peaks around August 12.
Browse our Stargazing Collection here.
by Kelson Roney
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