The sky at night

I confess to being something of a romantic at times. I am interested in the hard science that comes out of the various space programmes, but nothing beats just gazing up at the stars and trying to make out the constellations. And make sense of them.

Last night I was at Squadron with not much to do (and once I get a new job, I shall be leaving them, I suspect). Standing out in the square-cum-car park I looked up and, through the haze of light generated by being in a town centre I could make out a few dots of light.

Three of them formed a triangle and, by straining my eyes, could just about make out two fainter stars so that the triangle became a ‘W’. The constellation of Casseopeia.

But that was about it. A few single stars but nothing in proximity to each other. Then I had an idea; there’s a perimeter wall, and by ducking down behind it as far from it as possible I was able to block out the orange glare from neighbouring lights. The meant I could see the Plough (known as the Big Dipper in the US), which is actually part of Ursa Major. So there. I much prefer ‘the saucepan’, as anyone who has read Swallows and Amazons might call it (it does look like a saucepan). And having made that one out I could follow the line of the rightmost two stars to find Polaris, the (current) northern pole star.

Many years ago, Tracy was driving us up to see her family in Scotland and we took the A74 – this was long before work on the M74 had begun, so there were many sections of unlit single carriageway. Tracy was concentrating on driving (of course); I looked out of the passenger window and saw Orion rising over the horizon in a clear sky.

As a life-long townie it’s rare I get to see any stars in the sky at all. I once went to Luxor on holiday. Our hotel was on the Corniche, and it was easy enough to step outside, cross the road and take a few steps down to the banks of the Nile. Unfortunately, at that point we were interrupted by someone wanting to be our guide and fixer during our stay, so I never did get a proper look up.

And yet… looking up at the night sky takes us away from our everyday problems. It gives us something else to focus on, even if only for a few moments, and even if it’s only to wonder where an Earth-destroying alien invasion will come from…

In these enlightened times of course one can download an app on to one’s tablet device, lay back and get your fix, but it really is no substitute for using your own eyes. If I had a bucket list, an evening of stargazing would be on it.

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