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Really Dark Skies Over Sunflower Farm

12/5/2011 7:36:53 AM

Tags: stargazing, nature appreciation, dark skies, Cam Mather

 By Cam Mather

A month or so ago (October 24th) my cats woke me up in the middle of the night. Since I was awake, I got up and went to the bathroom. I looked out the bathroom window, which faces north, and noticed that something didn’t look quite right in the northern sky. Of course I didn’t have my glasses on, so it was all kind of blurry. I did manage to see a comet streak through the sky and I wondered, “What were the odds of that?”  But even after the comet was gone, I could still some eerie light coming from the north.

So I stumbled upstairs and got my glasses, and came back down and went outside and stood in front of the house and stared at the sky. There was a crazy light show happening to the north. There was no moon and even if there had been, it wouldn’t have been shining from that part of the sky. Since it was only 4 a.m. I knew it wasn’t the sun rising.

I can’t put my finger on what I saw, but it was a light that isn’t usually there and it was really cool. When we watched the news the next night I found out that a lot of U.S. States had experienced a great show of the northern lights because of solar radiation. So while I didn’t get the full show, it was pretty cool. And it’s one of the best things about living in the woods. Just staring up at the night sky. Apparently Michelle sleeps quite well out here in the country, since I managed to get out of bed once, then come back and get my glasses, go out the front door and stand outside for 10 minutes, then go back to bed, and Michelle didn’t even know I had been gone. I guess that aliens could have abducted me and she would have missed the whole thing.

Courtesy of http://starlightcascade.ca
Photo courtesy of http://starlightcascade.ca

We really lucked out in finding this place. We are within a reasonable driving distance of Toronto and Ottawa, but we do not get the light pollution from those big cities. On nights when we have meteor showers it’s just an awesome place to watch them. As the Lennox & Addington County (where we live) website says...

One of the many highlights of L&A is that our dark nights make conditions ideal for stargazing. L&A is the most southern point in Ontario where the night sky is so pristine, offering a night sky experience very similar to what was available 100 years ago.

The conditions here must be perfect for stargazing, as world-renowned astronomer Terence Dickinson chose to live here in Lennox & Addington over anywhere else in the universe. (http://www.lennox-addington.on.ca/things-to-do/experience-the-outdoors/star-gazing.html)

Not too shabby.....

I remember one really cold night when there was a huge meteor shower and I slid into a sleeping bag to watch it for a few hours, starting at about 3 a.m. I know … what a stupid idea. Why not just rent a video? Or play video games? Is that what you do for fun in the country? Well, that and watch the weather channel.

Photo courtesy of http://starlightcascade.ca

I just love staring up at a starry sky especially on a moonless night. I haven’t the foggiest idea of what I’m looking at. So many people have become stargazers and know all the constellations and the names of what they’re looking at. There have been many things I’ve tried to learn about, but I’ve never pursued a study of the cosmos. I just like to stand and stare at it. And wonder. In wonder. Kind of an “ignorance is bliss” kind of thing.

Photo courtesy of http://starlightcascade.ca

It’s so great for putting everything in context. I’m so small and insignificant in the overall picture of things. Really. That nagging worry. In the bigger picture. What a huge waste of energy even thinking about it.

The distance the light has traveled boggles the mind. What the other planets and stars look like is so open ended. Or as someone in the movie “Contact,” said about the possibility of life on other planets, “If it's just us, it seems like an awful waste of space."

I watch those NOVA-type shows that try and explain that the universe is expanding after the big bang, or now it’s contracting … I can’t remember. I prefer to use the movie “Contact” as my cosmic guide. It was written by the “billions and billions” astronomer Carl Sagan. In this movie the character played by Jodie Foster is part of an organization called SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.) When she hears “chatter” coming from the star Vega, she’s presented with an opportunity to track down its source. She has a million questions but mostly she wants to know the answer to the big questions “When did it start, how did they get to where they are?” And the answer is basically “We don’t know. Someone got in contact with us and passed along the information and we passed it on to you.” It was gloriously ambiguous. And I think that’s what I liked. There was no definite answer, or attempt to provide it.

I think that’s why I like staring at the night sky from the sidewalk in front of my house. It is just one honkin’ big incomprehensible universe and maybe at some point I’ll get the answer but for right now it’s just a mystery.

In a world of Google Searches and the ability to answer just about any question you might have, I think it’s pretty great that the ultimate, biggest question is unanswerable. I guess I should head out to meditate and try and achieve oneness with the universe. Or not.

* * * * * * *

A note about the photos - Since I've never attempted to take photos of the night skies around here, I got permission from Kevin & Kim who live at Starlightcascade Observatory and Gardens south of me, to use some of their amazing photos. Be sure to check out their website; http://starlightcascade.ca

For more information about Cam or his books, please visit www.cammather.com or www.aztext.com



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