Shedding light on the stars

  • Were you able to spot Venus recently? TNS

Tribune News Service
Published: 10/14/2020 9:52:13 AM

I’ve always been sorry I don’t know more about the stars and galaxies.

I was especially sorry a few weeks ago when I went out early one morning and saw an incredibly bright light in the eastern sky. It was so brilliant I wondered if it was a UFO.

Good thing I Googled it when I went back inside instead of phoning it in. It was Venus.

I am downright envious of people who can confidently point out the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. Sometimes I think I’ve found them, but then I link all the stars and wind up with two slotted spoons instead of dippers.

One of the grands who lives in the country where stars blaze deep into the dark showed me where the family stretches out on the deck at night to watch the space station.

“It starts over there,” she said, pointing to the top of a fir. “It crosses this way,” her fingering tracing an arc overhead, “and we lose sight of it over there at the top of that tree with the bag webworm.”

Maybe that’s what I need for star gazing, a house in the country, a 30-foot-long deck and trees with bag webworm.

I had opportunity to learn about the stars as a kid when I was selected to go to a two-week summer space camp. We made papier-mache planets and astronaut helmets from empty Baskin Robbins ice cream containers. My most vivid memory of space camp is the smell of mint chocolate chip.

Learning about astronomy is something I’ve been “gonna get to,” but somehow never have. The first obstacle is overcoming the embarrassment of checking out books from the children’s section of the library. I should probably start with one of those touch and feel books without words and work my way up.

The second obstacle is that my wobbly sense of direction on land is magnified 500 times in space. The North Star, also known as Polaris (and I hope that impressed someone), is an enigma.

People point it out to me. I gasp. Then I ruin the moment asking for proof they are certain. Do you look north to find it or straight up? What if you’re looking for it from the Arctic Circle? Do you look to the south to find the North Star? I weary my tutors and often find myself standing alone in the dark. Under the North Star. I think.

I am finally getting serious about the stars having downloaded the SkyView Lite app. I trained it on that early morning eastern sky four days running, and it confirmed the bright light as Venus.

“I’ve found Venus!” I shouted to all the sleeping neighbors.

I’ve also found a warrior wielding a sword and another fella armed with a bow and arrows. Apparently, there is as much fighting going on in the galaxies, as on the earth.

Progress is slow, but I now know the North Star is part of the Little Dipper. There’s rarely a night I don’t look at the stars and wonder – if there’s mint chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer.




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