Night Thoughts

It is heartening on many levels to watch the world tentatively open with the pandemic slowing its fated frenzy just a bit. One such tentative opening is our very own Taylor Observatory. It pays huge dividends to keep an eye on their facebook and website pages, Friends of Taylor Observatory (foto), because they hosted a Welcome Back Star Party in late June after two years of being closed to the public. The foto sites are a treasure trove of space information in which both space nerds and neophytes can learn something new and exciting. For example, they cited information on viewing the recent Perseid meteor shower; and they have information and links to learn about NASA and ESA’s amazing James Webb Space Telescope, which is producing the sharpest infrared images of the universe yet. The images surpass the also amazing Hubble Space Telescope by portraying thousands of galaxies for the first time ever. The images are mind-boggling on many levels, one of which is that the Webb images take us back in time as the star clusters appeared 4.6 billion years ago. As more information is gained Webb Telescope will teach us about the mysteries of the galaxies, including their histories and compositions.     Along with disseminating valuable information to the public, foto works in partnership with the Lake County Office of Education to augment astronomy-related STEM education for our Lake County K-12 students. (More on that at a later date!)

Lake County is lucky in that its clean, dark skies allow for observation of much in the way of celestial phenomena.  Poet Rainer Maria Rilke said it best: “It is breathtaking simply to be here.” Long before the invention of modern telescopes and invasive human-made light that can interrupt night’s celestial views, people spent time weaving stories with stargazing. Most cultures have these stories in their vernacular. As an example, the Western Pueblo Hopi people identified the Milky Way as an important part of their complex ceremonial life. Designs of the Pleiades or Chavau’wutakamu, meaning ‘clustered,’ were incorporated into ceremonial masks used in a winter solstice ceremony. The Nez Perce people in Idaho explained the meaning of what we now call the Seven Sisters or Pleiades in a story called Eyes-in-Different-Colors and Her Sisters:  It happened that in old times the stars, moon, and sun were people. Then, there were stars called seven sisters, with each having her own interests in nature that she especially loved. However, each sister believed that if she divulged these feelings, she may disappear from the skies. When the next-to-the-youngest sister divulged her love for a human and he died, she spent much time mourning him. She hid behind the cloak of the sky and that is why we can only see six of seven stars today.

While observing the night skies you may be privileged to other night occurrences, such as the lacy profiles of nearby trees, the sound of coyotes calling, owls whoo-whooing, or other unidentifiable critters scurrying in the brush. Getting lost in space has many rewards. The nightly free show is ever-changing and certainly gives one much to take in, both literally and figuratively. As your eyes adjust to the night sky’s dome and the gem-studded cosmos continues to reveal its secrets, you may recall that the night’s stars twinkle because of our own planet’s atmosphere. As starlight presses into our atmosphere, the light streaming from a star is refracted, allowing it to change its direction a bit. Earth’s varied temperatures and atmospheric densities don’t allow for a direct path to our eyes, and this looks like twinkling to us. On the other hand, planets, being closer to Earth, resemble discs in the sky and look like round, shiny objects through a telescope. If planets are hanging low in our skies, we may, however, see them twinkling like a star since we are peering through more atmosphere near the horizon.

The night skies invite us to ponder the imponderables. Whether you are interested in the ancient culture of constellations, star identification, learning about new discoveries via foto, NASA or the latest fun phone apps, our Lake County night skies offer inspiration of the cosmos in a grand way while being a force for good in the world. May the force be with you!  For more information, see:

Friends of Taylor Observatory facebook:

Friends of Taylor Observatory website:

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope

https://jwst.nasa.gov/content/webbLaunch/countdown.html

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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