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The Times
  • Looking Up: What we miss as we sleep

  • It was near the height of the Perseid meteor shower. The maximum was the night of Aug. 11-12, which was overcast. Aug. 12 was still cloudy but showed signs the veil may be giving up to the starlight beyond. It was time to go to bed; Monday was a work day.

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  • The dynamics of the universe played out above my head in the wee hours the other night. I could have kept sleeping.
    It was near the height of the Perseid meteor shower. The maximum was the night of Aug. 11-12, which was overcast. Aug. 12 was still cloudy but showed signs the veil may be giving up to the starlight beyond. It was time to go to bed; Monday was a work day.
    Sleep I did. Then I awoke around 3:22 a.m. and thought to look out the window. The stars were very much awake. Leaving the pillow behind just for a few moments, I thought, I donned a warm garment and ventured forth to the deck outside my door.
    The domain of an occasional nocturnal cat who does not expect to be disturbed at that hour, the deck became a platform to the Cosmos. From this wooden observatory, a telescope could have been set, but all one really needed was open eyes, awakened from slumber.
    Stepping out at that late hour, traffic was ceased. Neighborhood lights were at a minimum. Human activity was vanished and the realm of the animal world was in its prime. Crickets were bursting forth in their symphony, positioned in the trees.
    Looking up, I at once again had confirmation that our world is but a part of a greater scheme. This planet is one of a vast number untold, orbiting a myriad stars populating galaxies beyond the number of grains of sand at any of our seashores.
    The darkened vault of the night sky was punctuated with stars, marking constellations of our vivid imagination. Though it was summer, before me was a preview of autumn and early winter’s evening glory. Queen Cassiopeia’s amazing “W” was high in the north attended by the hero Perseus.
    Pegasus the great winged horse was arching just past the zenith on its downward leap. Bright blue-white Fomalhaut glimmered low in the south, the premiere star of the Southern Fish. Cygnus the Swan, in its form as the Northern Cross, stood upright in the west like an image of Easter. The billowing and distant Milky Way Band cascaded like an unfurled banner, from Perseus through Cassiopeia an down to Cygnus.
    High above my no longer sleepy head was a dim and elongated fuzzy patch, the Andromeda Galaxy. In reality twice the size of our own Milky Way spiral, this grand celestial oasis beckoned us to stretch our understanding of “far.” Can any of us really grasp 2,538,000 light years- the distance light travels in that many years?
    Booming much closer to our planet was an interesting group within our own Solar System. Bursting forth in a reflection of sunlight- and proving our Sun was yet shining hidden below our feet- was the planet Jupiter, the crescent Moon, and the planet Venus, the lowest of the trio.  Their brilliant display was matched only by the splendor of the stars far past them. In the cosmic background lay Taurus the Bull, with bright orange Aldebaran and two large star clusters, the V-shaped Hyades and the glittering Pleiades, fashioned like a tiny “Little Dipper.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Oh yes, the meteors I went out to see. In a half hour’s time I counted five. Bits of space rock heretofore unseen, erupted in a blaze of wonder,  caught by Earth’s pull and vaporized in our upper atmosphere.
    It was quite a show. Deferring to the hope of more clear nights ahead and the practicality of catching a few more winks, it was back to the pillow. Dreams would be sweet, once I could get back to sleep. The stars would continue to shine unseen by most except the critters of the night, before the overpowering light of our own star would take over once more.
    First quarter moon is on August 23.
    Notes are welcome at news@neagle.com. Please mention where you read this column. Keep looking up!

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