“Let’s see if we can see a satellite,” whispered my mother one evening. I was 8. Full of wonder I followed my mother outside. We lay on the ground looking up at the stars. We waited.
That night we saw five satellites pass overhead. The crossed the milky way, blazoned across the night sky. I learned how to tell the difference between a planet and a star. (With planets you can just about make out a disk, while stars are points of light.) And we counted off the major constellations: Orion, Taurus and the seven sisters.
My mother pointed out brightest star in the sky: Sirius in the constellation Canis Major with its blue-white light. My mind boggled as my mother explained that it was only the brightest star because it was “close” to the Earth (just 8 light years). That if Betelguese, the giant orange star in Orion was as close to the earth as Sirius, it would cast shadows.
Time. Distance. Void. Expansion. I loved all those concepts. My head shifted. I felt in awe. A feeling that has never left me.
I was lucky that my first encounter with the night-sky was in a remote location in Nicaragua. We owned a property there, which we were trying to sell. It was in the middle of nowhere. No man-made light was interfering with the giant spectacle.
It was my mother too who woke me up in the middle of the night several years later to show me Halley’s comet. “Like a tennis racket in the sky,” she said. She was right. We spotted the comet before the ’prime’ time, it’s icy trail at this point was clearly visible.
I’ve gazed up at the night-sky on countless occasions since. Tracing the line from the big bear to the pole star. Finding the south poie with the help of the Southern Cross. Counting the sisters in Pleiades (that first night in Nicaragua we could easily count to 7). Looking for the smudge of the Andromeda galaxy.
I still feel in awe. Humble.