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The harvest of the stars


When I took my dogs out before bed last night, I looked up, as I always do, and despite the light pollution, I saw the Milky Way streaming across the sky like a wavy stripe of luminous fog.

Instead of going to bed after I let the dogs back in, I headed back out to my deck. I’ve been spending a lot of time stargazing this summer because the planets have been putting on quite a show. If you look south just after twilight has died, you’ll see three bright stars close to one another. Two of them actually are planets. Saturn is uppermost. Mars is in the middle. Antares, the brightest star in Scorpio, is at the bottom. This week, Mars will drift east to where the three practically will be in a straight line.

Anyway, I went out to my deck and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark while I tried to read the sky. It had been maybe 10 days since I had gone out to watch the stars, and in that time, the constellations had shifted. Cygnus, the swan, with its bright “head” star Deneb, was much higher in the sky. Aquila, the eagle, a dimmer constellation, also was now higher in the sky, but its bright star Altair makes is easy to find. And Vega, the second-brightest star in the summer sky, had shifted west of the zenith.

Incidentally, the brightest star in the summer sky, Arcturus, can be found by starting at the top left star of the bowl of Ursa Major—the Big Dipper—and working back along the bowl’s handle. Extend that line and, almost due west, and you’ll spot Arcturus.

Last night I was looking at the Milky Way high in the sky, but my neck quickly cramped from standing with my head tilted straight back, so I turned toward the east and lowered my head. As I did, I spotted something incredibly bright. The burst lasted maybe a half a second, but it was enough time for my brain to check off the things it wasn’t.

It wasn’t a planet; I’d been watching them all summer and knew where they were. It wasn’t a star; it was much too bright. It wasn’t a meteor; it was motionless. As I watched, it moved slowly south and dimmed to near-invisibility less than 10 seconds. It was then I realized what I’d seen:

A metaphor.

 

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
anita_margarita
Aug. 23rd, 2016 10:56 pm (UTC)
The only constellation I can always find is the Big Dipper. Sometimes I can locate Orion's Belt... that's it. And now that I'm in town, surrounded by houses and trees and street lights... the night sky is lost to me.
patrick_vecchio
Aug. 24th, 2016 01:20 am (UTC)
I try to learn one, then learn what the closest one to it is, etc. Some of the named constellations make me think the people who chose the stars for them and named them were really, really high.
anita_margarita
Aug. 24th, 2016 04:18 am (UTC)
We were outside tonight and I happened to look toward the narrow space between trees in the south sky, and lo and behold, there were the three all lined up. My husband pulled a chair around for me and I spent a good half hour staring at them. What a treat. Thank you for pointing them out.
patrick_vecchio
Aug. 27th, 2016 03:41 pm (UTC)
I can spend more time under the night sky now because retirement has allowed me to re-order my priorities. I am both lucky and blessed.

I'm working on a post about seeing the Andromeda Galaxy and being overwhelmed by how far away it is.
sahlah
Aug. 24th, 2016 02:49 pm (UTC)
A metaphor

Now man, you got me thinking about that... what an excellent way to end this piece.
patrick_vecchio
Aug. 27th, 2016 03:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks! That idea didn't come to me at first; it just happened as I was writing. I have no idea how that works.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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