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The Importance of the Stars

Posted by Kelly on February 28th, 2014

The stars around the nebula Thor's Helmet, by John Chumack

The stars around the nebula Thor’s Helmet, by John Chumack

We spend the vast majority of our lives indoors. We’re at work, at school, or at home, with activities such as sleeping, watching TV, or having dinner with the family. This is especially true during the winter months when making the short sprint from a building to our cars can be a test of our endurance.

Add to that the places most of us live. These restaurants, offices, industries, schools, and homes all cluster together in cities and suburbs. It is not often that we find ourselves away from the hubbub and associated light pollution and outside under the stars.

Recently I had a chance to travel to northern Wisconsin to see the Ice Caves on Lake Superior. We stayed outside of the small town of Ashland at a B&B. Even though the weather was excruciatingly cold, we did stop and take a few minutes to look up at the stars, because the stars demanded it.

Being in a place with very little light pollution on a clear night makes you remember the importance of the stars. They are the only things beckoning to you on a dark night, and their brightness seems more powerful and brilliant, like ice drops reflecting the Sun, as compared to when they swim in the muted grayness of a suburban or urban sky.

We need to take more opportunities to stop and look up at the night sky, because the stars are important. For most of human history our days ended when we began to see the first stars at night and our days began when the stars dissolved with the rising Sun. We gave them names and stories accorded with our most important gods and goddesses. Even now, creatures such as the lowly dung beetle navigate by orienting themselves to the stars of the Milky Way. The stars once ruled half of our lives, and for some of us they still do.

As we stood outside gazing at the winter stars, my daughter pointed out the star that she shares a middle name with, and my son pointed out Sirius and noted that he could see the whole figure of the dog (Canis Major), because there was no light pollution drowning out the stars rimming the horizon.

In less than two months we will find ourselves in some of the darkest skies in the United States as we enjoy our next vacation. The stars will undoubtedly call out to us again, reminding us of the importance they played in our history and how crucial they may be to our future.

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