On becoming sky watchers


On Thursday the child and I had to be somewhere around sunset.  We do not normally see this daily event for two reasons.  One, I (and by extension she) am normally never anywhere at sunset but at home:  me usually logging miles around the floorspace in the kitchen, she usually joining me or doing her own thing.  And two, there’s a forest across the street that prohibits our seeing this daily occurrence.  Anyway, this Thursday sun as it set was HUGE.  Like, light-up-the-sky-and-think-it’s-on-fire enormous.  Has anyone else noticed this?

“It must be perihelion,” I told her.  “We’re as close to the sun as we’re going to get this year.”

“But why is it so cold if it’s so close?” she asked.  (Seeing the sun set in the lake in the heat of Summer, that sun is tiny.)

“I don’t know,” I said.  “But you should find out,” I told her.

On the way home that evening she saw the moon.  “I see the wolf moon!” she said.  I’ve taught her the names of all 13 full moons.  (The full moon is actually tonight but I certainly wasn’t going to rain on her parade.)  Because we live in the country and the sky is unobstructed and light-pollution free, I figured we all need to be a bit more aware of the heavens above.  This was something we all used to know, to be aware of, just like canning and cheesemaking and gardening…

6 responses to “On becoming sky watchers

  1. You’re right on! We moved out to the country 9 years ago. On a cold, rainy January day, even. One of the first things we noticed was how much brighter were the stars and how many more of them we could see. I bought myself an 8-inch reflecting telescope and spent several years looking at the stars – doubles and triples – and the nebula and galaxies (Andromeda is fascinating) and the space station and other satellites.

    To the south, towards town, the viewing is not as good because of the sky glow from the town’s lights.

    The other thing that really bugs me, is how almost everybody in the country keeps their big lights on all night long. Why on earth is everybody afraid of the dark?? I welcome it, I love it. What on earth is everybody afraid of?

  2. Yes, it *is* so much brighter in the winter, even when the sky is overcast. I love looking at the stars, even if it is too cold to stand out for long…. luckily I have a huge window that I can look right out at the sky from. But what I think is the neatest is how you have taught your daughter the names of all the moons and she can say that she knows, e.g. the wolf moon. I remember when I learned them, how interested I was in why they were named as they were, how it all started, etc. As Dennis said, I wish there weren’t so many big lights out to compete with the beautiful sky.

  3. Where I grew up was once an inland sea (no trees and dead flat) so the sky stretches forever. It doesn’t rain much there, so is good stargazing. My dad used to take us out into the dark to show us constellations, and I still love the night sky. I love how the hugeness of it spins you down so that you know you are just one tiny speck and you know that life is short.

    Are the 13 moon names a Northern hemisphere thing? That is sweet and special that your girl has learnt them from you 🙂

  4. “I love how the hugeness of it spins you down so that you know you are just one tiny speck and you know that life is short.” (Em)

    Em, I think you are dead on. I once watched the sun go down looking out over Lake Superior. I swear that I could feel the Earth spinning.

    That sense of smallness is one that all humans ought to experience on a regular basis. Forgive my sweeping generalization, but I tend to think of people living in big cities (or their suburbs) as being entirely too full of themselves with their busy, important, well-paid lives. They are disconnected from nature and from the sky. And so we have the financial and other scandals that ruin the lives of so many small people.

  5. Now Dennis, I do appreciate your kind words but consider: we don’t want all the suburbanites and city-zens to move to the country!! So shhh! I will say though that as a city person I was immensely keen on looking at the sky. Minneapolis is not a terribly awful place as far as light pollution goes; I was quite able to operate a neighbor’s telescope just fine in my back yard to look at Hale-Bopp. Every night when walking the dog I would look up to see many wonderful things; the Northern Lights was something I saw more times than I could count! But a telescope is on our list of quasi-needs, especially now that our daughter is getting older.

    Thanks, MC. Big windows are great for many things and skywatching is a big one! Good, I am glad to hear that others have learned the names of the moons and why they’re called such. It’s a fun little bit of history.

    Em, you’re spot-on about how inconsequential you feel when you’re out facing something magnificent like your Australian night sky. (Individually, I think it is quite easy for us wee humans to feel pretty puny; it is my belief, though, that collectively we humans are a menace to ourselves and the planet…but that’s another topic.) Anyway, I am not sure the northern hemisphere has a copyright on the names of the moons; they had certain names in Europe that mostly jived with the harvests and in this country the native names of the moons tied much more closely with what was going on in the world at that time.

  6. I am like your child, I want to know why things are the way they are. LOL The reason it’s colder even though the earth is closer to the sun is that the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun & the southern hemisphere is tilted toward it. That’s why the sun seems harsher too, we are not getting direct light like in the summer, when we tilt back toward the sun. Isn’t it amazing how it all works! Jen

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