When I was a kid, my parents insisted that I watch PBS, partly for my educational benefit, and partly to support my Uncle Richard, who worked at our local PBS station. I dutifully did, whenever I could sit still long enough to watch television: 3-2-1 Contact, The Electric Company, and Doctor Who (with Tom Baker!) were staples of my childhood. But none of them entranced me quite like Star Gazer with Jack Horkheimer.
Whenever I heard the first electric ’80s chords of Debussy’s Arabesque, I would come galloping out of my room and sit transfixed for the next five minutes, which was conveniently the length of the segment. Jack Horkheimer, who at the time was the director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium, extolled the beauty of the night sky and all the wonders of the celestial world. Every segment ended with his enthusiastic advice to “Keep looking up!”
I never stopped looking up.
What we can see in the sky fascinates me. And out here in the country, the sky is much bigger and less polluted with light, which makes for more things to look at. On a clear night out here, you can easily see the Milky Way. We are far enough north that you can find the aurora, if it’s a strong display and you stay up late enough. With my telescope, I can spot stars and clusters that I never would have dreamt of being able to find anywhere on the west side of the state.
I don’t know what it is about the stars and planets and everything else in the sky that captivates me. It’s partly science, partly romance, partly art. But I love waking up and being able to see Venus like a beacon in the sky, bright enough that I don’t even need my glasses to see it. I loved watching the lunar eclipse in September, with the moon dark red and menacing just above the tree line. I love knowing that there’s no reason we wouldn’t be able to see a meteor shower, and all we have to do is walk outside. When we lived in the Seattle area, catching a meteor shower would have meant packing up the car and going for a two hour drive — if the cloud cover ever lifted.
I think people really miss out on something when they don’t go outside and look at the stars. The light from the stars that we see now is the light that that particular star gave off when our ancestors first raised their eyes to look at the heavens. There’s something magical in the bridge that the stars provide between generations. I look at the Big Dipper and I know that my great-great-great grandparents must have gazed at it, much the same way that my great-great-great grandchildren will someday.
So if you live someplace where you can see the stars at night, go out and stargaze. Take a friend with you. Bring some hot chocolate or spiced apple cider, go someplace dark, and remember … keep looking up!