Stars in the dark
When our daughter came home for Thanksgiving, she noticed perhaps the only thing she had missed since moving to the big city: stars.
Well, maybe she missed her dog and her little brother, a little. But mostly it was stars.
We sent her outside one evening to turn off the chickens’ light and to throw a chip of hay to the ox, and she was gone so long we sent the boy out to look for her. She was stargazing, and she got her brother to look up, too.
We are lucky to live in a dark place. On a clear night, we can see the Milky Way, check for constellations, look for shooting stars.
“In the city, if I see one star, I get so happy,” my daughter said. She and a friend tried to go stargazing one night, at an organized viewing party on Manhattan’s High Line park along the Hudson, but it was raining. She was distressed to find her high school friends, also home for Thanksgiving, had not given any thought to the sky.
“Do you have stars in Burlington?” she asked one friend, and he said he hadn’t noticed.
“Can you believe it?” she asked us. “How can you not notice?”
Not everyone notices, I guess, although we seem to be surrounded by people who do. I’ll get calls from neighbors and pals, reminding me that there’s a meteor shower coming up, or asking if I noticed the moon the night before.
We know we’re lucky to live in a dark place, where the night sky is part of our regular surroundings. We’re familiar with the seasonal movement of stars around the dome of the sky. We watch the phases of the moon and check for visible planets, even if we forget to find out which ones they are. (Right now, the big white one in the eastern sky is Jupiter — but I had to look that up.)
During summer meteor showers, we lie on blankets on the lawn counting shooting stars and telling jokes. The winter meteor showers put on even better shows because the cold dry air makes for a clearer sky. Once my daughter and I watched on a night that was really far too cold to be outside, because the shower was a particularly spectacular one.
Earthsky.org is a good place to look up sky facts — what planets are out, whether there are eclipses in our future, what meteor showers are coming up. It’s a good place to look to remind us to look up — or, if we’re already looking up, to let us know what it is we’re seeing.
Last week the big sky show was the full moon, hard to miss, even in a big city. It was so bright in the early morning that the dog and I cast long shadows on our walk. In the middle of the night, I kept looking out the window and wondering if someone had left a light on, in the basement or the chicken coop. No, just the sky.
The moon’s waning now, and will disappear around Dec. 13. Perfect timing — that’s the date of the Geminid meteor shower, a great sky show with around 50 meteors per hour during its peak. Best viewing, if the sky is clear, will be late night Dec. 13 until before dawn on Dec. 14.
Good timing too, because the star-loving daughter is coming home the next day and, with any luck, there will still be shooting stars for her to see that night. And we know she’ll be looking up.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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