The Things We’re Overlooking

I feel like we’ve been in crisis mode for years now. Each news cycle is more shocking than the last, and because of that, I’m losing the will to be shocked anymore. I now understand how people can seem lethargic in war zones. It just all becomes too much.

But the most heartbreaking aspect of this, in my opinion, is that other things are happening, miraculous things, spectacular things, horrific things, record-breaking things, and we don’t even hear about them because we’re overwhelmed by Trump’s tomfoolery or this nightmare pandemic.

For example, check out this article entitled, “First Ever Image of a Multi-Planet System around a Sun-like Star Captured by ESO Telescope”. And the most amazing thing is that this system is located only about 300 light years from us. On a universal scale, we’re practically neighbors.

And we have a great deal in common. Our suns are very similar, although theirs is younger. And there are two gas giants circling that sun, similar to ours, although a great deal larger and farther out. Soon, astronomers hope to see if there are smaller planets in the system as well.

What an amazing discovery. This is the first time we’ve seen anything like this, ever. We can learn a lot from this system. This is huge. This is incredibly exciting!

And yet it gets lost in the drama that is our current reality. It makes you wonder what else we’re missing.

First ever image of a multi-planet system around a Sun-like star
This image, captured by the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, shows the star TYC 8998-760-1 accompanied by two giant exoplanets, TYC 8998-760-1b and TYC 8998-760-1c. This is the first time astronomers have directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star similar to the Sun. The two planets are visible as two bright dots in the centre (TYC 8998-760-1b) and bottom right (TYC 8998-760-1c) of the frame, noted by arrows. Other bright dots, which are background stars, are visible in the image as well. By taking different images at different times, the team were able to distinguish the planets from the background stars.    The image was captured by blocking the light from the young, Sun-like star (top-left of centre) using a coronagraph, which allows for the fainter planets to be detected. The bright and dark rings we see on the star’s image are optical artefacts.

Hey! Look what I wrote! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Our Connection with the Universe

I read something recently that really made me think. If you lived on the sunshine side of a tidal locked planet (one in which one side of its sphere always faces the body it orbits around), over the generations you might completely lose sight of the fact that there’s a universe out there, because you’d never see the stars.

How tragic that would be. For centuries, Man has been looking skyward and wondering what is out there. We imagine constellations of stars as being part of a group even though they are nowhere near each other. We give them names. We wonder if we are alone.

Personally, I find it extremely comforting that there’s something so much larger than myself that it practically renders me insignificant. It makes me feel that any concerns I may be having are insignificant, too.

There is so much beauty in the night sky. It calms me. It embraces me. I’d hate to lose that sense of awe.

Our moon is tidally locked to us, which is why we always see the same face. But we are not tidally locked to it, nor is it tidally locked to the sun, which is why we see different phases of it as it continues to face us. If you lived on the far side of the moon, you wouldn’t know earth existed. That’s a profound view of reality, because the earth is comparatively huge, and would be rather hard to ignore in other circumstances.

Tidal locking would mean you’d only get to see one version of reality. And over time that reality would be reinforced to such a degree that it would be hard to leave room for any other beliefs. (In fact, one’s very concept of the passage of time would probably be so different that it might render one incapable of imagination.)

It just goes to show that your reality has a great deal to do with where you are looking. That’s why I love to travel so much. I think it’s important to experience other points of view. And by that I don’t just mean the opinions of others. I mean the points from which I get to view the world and the heavens.

I hope you take time to look about you, dear reader. There are many things to see. And those sights will enhance your connection to the universe.

NGC7293_(2004).jpg

Like this quirky little blog? Then You’ll love my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Arches National Park, Utah

Sometimes I think I am the luckiest person on earth. I really do. I finally scraped and clawed myself up to the lower middle class (even as it seems to be disappearing), and I now have a job with decent paid vacations. Woo hoo!

So this time I decided to go and explore Southeastern Utah. This is a state that has always intrigued me. Its landscape changes dramatically in the blink of an eye. One minute you can be in lush green mountains, and the next you’re down in red rocky canyons or on the flat, forbidding Great Salt Lake. There are arches and plateaus and caves and sand dunes and salt flats and rivers and waterfalls. It’s going to require multiple visits for me to see it all, but I am up for the challenge.

On the first part of my visit, I explored Arches National Park. According to the National Park Service website, there are over 2,000 natural stone arches in this park. In 1929, President Hoover signed the proclamation that set aside the first acreage for it. At that time it got 500 visitors. In 2016, more than a million and a half people explored its 119 square miles, and yet its budget is being cut. Frustrating.

Along with the amazing arches, you’ll see precariously balanced rocks, enormous fins, and amazing pinnacles. And red. Lots and lots of red. It’s stunning.

We were lucky enough to visit on a day where the park was to remain open all night long, so we brought lawn chairs and blankets and set ourselves up in an overlook that gave us great views of a wide valley. I can say with certainty that I have never seen so many stars in my life. And satellites! We saw 8 satellites fly over. And some shooting stars. And the Milky Way. And later, the moon, in all its yellow glory.

I remember thinking on several occasions while there that I was going to remember this trip for the rest of my life. It is one of the high points, literally and figuratively. Like I said, sometimes I think I’m the luckiest person on earth.

Without further ado, here are some of my photos from the trip. Including my favorite rock formation of all time, simply because it’s called The Three Gossips. Enjoy!

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Becoming Part of the Silence

A friend of mine recently posted this quote on her Facebook page:

In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.
~ Robert Lynd

What a lovely sentiment. But it’s harder to do than it seems at first glance. Most of us live in a world full of noise without even realizing it. I know I block out the traffic sounds when I’m at work, and I can’t even remember the last time I took note of the hum of my refrigerator.

I can only recall experiencing total silence once. It was at Mesa Verde National Park. That complete absence of sound was really brought home to me when I saw a raven fly past. I could hear the beating of his wings. I’ll never forget that feeling of awe.

This summer, I’ll be spending several days camping with a friend in the mountains of British Columbia. I’m really looking forward to it. I suspect we’ll not only be off the grid but also off the beaten path. I look forward to gazing at the stars with no light pollution, but more than anything else, I can’t wait to be immersed in the silence. It will be like entering a warm bath on a cold, raw day.

Some people are made uncomfortable by silence. I adore it. It embraces me like an old friend. I only wish it were a little less elusive.

Silence

Like this blog? Then you’ll LOVE this book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Five Planets at Once

Between now and February 20th, about 80 minutes before dawn, you should be able to see Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter in the sky with your naked eye. That is, of course, unless you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do. Then you’re lucky to even see the sky at this time of the year. To read about the best way to view this phenomenon, check out the EarthSky website.

Whenever any kind of stellar (or in this case, planetary) event occurs, I get butterflies in my stomach. It’s not that I think it’s going to bring about the apocalypse, or that there’s some need to sacrifice a virgin. It’s just that when things happen on such a grand scale, I get to realize how small I am in the overall scheme of things. Oddly enough, I find this comforting.

It’s nice to know that there’s really no need to get worked up about stuff. The planets are going to do their thing whether or not I get the dishes washed. Nothing I do or don’t do will impact their orbits one bit. It’s really quite liberating to know that.

There’s no perspective quite like the universal perspective.

Happy stargazing!

5-planets-NHemisphere-80minsbeforesunrise-EarthSky1-e1453249867188

Let There Be Light. Not.

I love the dark. I think that started because I was a chronic migraine sufferer from an early age. Even though I rarely get migraines anymore, somewhere in my brain light will always equal pain.

I almost never turn lights on unless I have to read something or am unfamiliar with my environment. I think of darkness as a blanket that comforts me rather than an unknown that scares me. In the dark my imagination can run wild. Fortunately it usually runs to positive places.

My brother-in-law is just the opposite. He has night lights in every single room in his house. Even when you turn out the lights there’s light. I can’t imagine what his electric bill must be like. If I visit, I always have to remember to pack something to use as a blindfold or I get no sleep at all.

To me, the night holds mystery, potential and possibility. Nights are usually less predictable, and I love that. While I admit that life requires a certain level of balance and moderation, and I understand that everything is a matter of perspective, I’ll pick the moon and stars over the great scareball in the sky any day.

love-the-stars

[Image credit:  gagthat.com]

Pursuing the Perseid

The other night the Perseid meteor shower was going to be at its peak around 2 am. I love a good meteor shower. I tried to get a couple of friends to join me, and they all sort of looked at me askance.

It made me sad, because I really wasn’t just asking for star-gazing company. I’m about to move across the country, so what I was really saying was, “Come make one last memory with me.” But they all preferred to sleep. Now I know how Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Well, not really, but you see what I mean.)

So I decided to pursue the Perseid alone. I set my alarm for 1:30 am, and for reasons known only to the clock, it didn’t go off. I woke up at 3 am with a start, and headed out. But that close to dawn, there was no point in driving all the way out beyond the city lights. Oh, who am I kidding? I kind of got the creeps, thinking of sitting there alone in an open field. So I opted for the nearest park that had a northeasterly view.

I’ve actually seen more than one astrological event in this particular park, so I figured it would be a decent enough choice. But I hadn’t been there in years, and I didn’t realize that it had gone through quite a metamorphosis. It used to be a shady idyll with unpaved paths down to a rough shoreline. Now it was a gorgeous  park with wide paved sidewalks, a gazebo, statuary, and lights. Lots and lots of lights. I bet you can see this park from the surface of the moon. So I couldn’t even see stars, let alone meteors. I gave up and went home to bed.

When the Perseid meteor showers roll around next year, I’ll be in a completely different place in the world, physically, emotionally, and financially. I’ve marked my calendar to make them an event. Maybe by then I’ll have a man by my side and it will be a romantic evening. Or maybe I’ll have some more flexible friends. Or I’ll be alone. But that will be okay, too, because I will have moved ahead in my life, I’ll have achieved something, and that is something to celebrate.

Of course, I will be in the Pacific Northwest, so there’s a good possibility that the clouds will obscure the sky. But a girl can dream, can’t she? So check back with me this time next year.

perseid-shower-13-meteor-625.si

[image credit: rt.com]

Orion’s Belt

Most couples have a favorite song, or a favorite movie or a favorite restaurant. We had a favorite constellation. Even though he’s no longer here, those stars still watch over me.

We chose it because it was the first constellation we could see as we stepped out of our house in Vero Beach. That town is the perfect place to take walks at night because you always feel safe. In this day and age one should lock one’s doors no matter where one lives, but in Vero Beach at least I wasn’t completely horrified if I forgot to lock them every now and then.

So we’d follow Orion’s belt down the street, loop around, and eventually wind up down by the river, where we’d sit on the banks and gaze heavenward. We were close enough to smell the salt air from the beaches. Sometimes we’d sit near a local bar and listen to live music. Other times we would just sit. I loved being quiet with him. And I loved the outlandish things he’d say to break the silence, too.

When he passed away, I didn’t see Orion’s Belt for a month. I was either too distracted to look up, or there were clouds in the sky. Sometimes I’d look for it. Sometimes I just didn’t have the heart.

Whenever I see it now I think of him. I wonder if you can still see the stars where he is. I hope so. He loved them.

ORIONS_BELT_AND_THE_HORSEHEAD_NEBULA_Wallpaper_rkmye

[Image credit: sciencereflections.com]

My Prayer

I am grateful this day for the rain that sustains me

    for the sun that nurtures me, for the wind that buffets me.

 I wish to give back more than I take from this world,

value more than that which is has been given me

and shore up that which has always endured me.

May I always gaze at the stars and feel joy

for my minuscule part in the limitless universe.

MilkyWayRoad_landolfi

(Image credit: apod.nasa.gov)

Darkness Revealed

When I drive to work at night it’s a completely different experience than when I work a day shift. Even the nuclear power plant, normally a blight upon the landscape, looks beautiful. It is all lit up and floating in a sea of blackness like a nighttime cruise heading for the Bahamas.

The traffic flow is different as well. There’s less of it, and although it seems like a more lawless group of drivers, and definitely a more alcohol-soaked one, it feels safer. This is a dangerous illusion that requires one to be on the alert.

Criminals rule the night, or at least that is what Hollywood would have us believe. So there’s also this underlying sense of excitement and danger. Most people who are out at night are there either because they have no choice or they like the thrill and the atmosphere or they don’t have the sense to be vigilant. Or they are predators who are up to no good. And since these people can’t be told apart, you have to assume the worst.

What I like about the dark hours is the sense of isolation. Even though there are still the same number of humans on the planet, somehow at night you can often feel as if you have it all to yourself. What a luxury. I look up at the sky and revel in the quiet and imagine that all those stars are a part of me. We are star stuff, after all. I seem to breathe easier at night. I feel embraced by it. I’m where I’m supposed to be.

It takes a certain amount of faith to feel safe at night. You are, after all, being deprived of one of your senses. Anything could be in the darkness. Anything at all. You can’t really be sure. There’s so much out there that you can’t see. Everything is hidden from you, and there’s quite a lot of it.

Indeed, that feeling of abundance can overtake our senses. At night we become more. More romantic, more fearful, more uninhibited, more exuberant, or more lonely and depressed. People hate to be alone on a Friday night. You never hear them complain about being alone on a Friday afternoon.

The nighttime feels like an grand entity that the daytime can never even hope to become. It takes a special effort to overcome that prehistoric desire to hide, to hibernate, to wait out the darkness. But if you make the effort, you often reap rare and sensual rewards.

magritte4119Magritte