The Wonders of the Night Sky
Now that the weather has taken a turn for the better, one of my favorite activities is going out for a walk during these cool spring evenings. The lawn mowers and leaf blowers have been put to bed for the night. The mosquitoes have not yet hatched from their larvae and are not yet thirsting for my blood (and everybody else’s). All is quiet in the suburbs, and it’s a fine time to be with your own thoughts – and turn your attention to the night sky.
Heaven knows I am no astronomer, but I am perennially nosy, so when I saw two planets glowing like lanterns in the western sky, one almost directly above the other, I couldn’t resist saying to myself, “How I wonder what you are!” I called a friend, who is an inveterate night walker, and asked him which planets they were – somehow I knew he would know and he did. Even though he lives in North Carolina, hundreds of miles away from where I am in Maryland, the night sky is more or less the same for both of us. He told me that Venus was above Jupiter and that even though Venus is a smaller planet, it is much brighter because it is closer to earth. Then he directed me to look in the eastern sky where small, but bright and with a faintly red tinge, Mars twinkled down at me and my fellow earthlings.
It turns out that my friend’s astronomical skills have been greatly helped by a terrific I-Phone app called The Night Sky, which is available for 99 cents – and a bargain at the price. I immediately downloaded it – and recommend it to all other would-be star gazers.
I recognize that there are places on earth far grander than the Maryland suburbs for enjoying celestial wonders, and some day I hope to travel there. In the meanwhile, I confine myself to looking at pictures sent by Facebook friends in such exotic places. Illona Fjellström is a schoolmate of mine from many years ago, with whom I reconnected after more than 40 years, thanks to Facebook. It turns out that she married a Swede (Johan) and moved with him to Arjeplog, a town of about 1800 in Lappland in the north of Sweden. In that location, Illona and Johan have been lucky enough to enjoy spectacular demonstrations of the northern lights, especially this year, when there have been unusually high levels of solar activity. Johan, who is a photographer, was kind enough to share these amazing photos with me and my readers (see above).
I have seen the northern lights only once before, in Tromsø, a town in the far north of Norway, and they were nowhere nearly as dramatic as those shown in Johan’s pictures. A group of us stood on a rooftop terrace and saw what looked like a faint white muslin curtain waving gently in the celestial breeze. Even so, there was something other-worldly about them.
I am looking forward to continuing my night sky explorations, perhaps with the help of a telescope, and hope one day to go and visit my friends in Lappland and catch those wondrous green streaks of light for myself. In the meanwhile, perhaps I have stimulated some of you to go and take a look at the sky one of these fine evenings. It’s a good time to be alive.
Wishing you Light and Transcendence,