The Big Idea
With nights drawing in with Autumn, both Dulcie & Dr Iain independently said – hey what about star gazing. As I write this Dulcie is heading off to enjoy a short break in one of George Clarke’s projects that has an opening roof to allow her to sleep in comfort under the stars. Very timely as this week is also World Space Week.
We have looked to the stars from ancient times. Echos of the stars and the heavens are seen in all sorts of facets of human history. After all it is the consistent of living on the Earth: Earth and sky. Evidence and artefacts show that appreciating and finding meaning in the heavens is as old as our history from the stone ages (Paleolithic to Neolithic), to early Chinese dynasties, Greek thinkers (such as Hipparchus), Egyptians, Mayans to the Renaissance (such as Galileo), right through to the first commercial flights in recent years. Of course these had, and still can have, practical uses in history like for navigation and being a calendar.
So whats the draw today? And why should we care? Well there all sorts of reasons why this particular #Tip could be right up there for you. As our Dulcie would say “it’s not bloody rocket science” – well in this case it could be!
Got it…What’s the Science
The real rub here for us is that this is not only a #Tip in itself but we think that it could be the #Tip that lets you stack more of the other 52 Tips together. Looking to the stars, usually means being outside (#Tips 4, 8, 11, 37, 39), you could be listening to music (#Tip 12), it allows you to wonder and consider your day/s (#Tips 5, 9, 11), you can let your mind wonder abstractly making connections (#Tip 38) and memories (#Tip 19), recalling and making stories and myths, to help us to reframe and contextualise our existence (#Tips 9 & 23). Some believe that the movement of stars and planets also determine their destiny.
When we look to the stars, the very act of looking up is associate with feelings of wellbeing and optimism. Doing this even when we are having a bad day can help dupe our body into feeling more positive. The more we look, the more our eyes tend to adapt to the lower light, allowing us to see more (#Tips 22 & 37) and the more that we wait the more we see and the more we are drawn to seeing the fainter objects in the sky, which tend to be the furthest objects that we can see with the naked eye. The speed of light is just under 300 000 kilometres per second. This means that we are always looking at these objects as they were in the past. How we see Jupiter, the light from this planet, takes between 35 and 52 minutes to reach us (depending on the relative position of the Earth to Jupiter in the Solar System of course). Light from other early visible stars such Vega take 28 years, that from the Andromeda galaxy (just visible with naked eye on a clear night with low light pollution) has taken 2.5 million years. So space above our heads is vast! Mind bendingly vast. It also means that we can, if we let ourselves, feel the enormity and specialness of witnessing the cosmos – to wonder, almost celebrate it. Fortunately we can’t see all of the Universe at once. (The Total Perspective Vortex is an imaginary machine in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe series, built to show beings the infinity of creation, which became torturous rather than joyous.)
If the size of the cosmos is not enough we are far more intricately linked with the fiery furnaces in the sky the to see as stars. Most of the elements that make up our bodies, including oxygen, carbon, iron were formed in the dying throws of the cataclysmic explosions of older stars (called supernovae). This means that we are made of stuff that was part of stars, sometime many times over. Ultimately, looking to the stars this is where our atoms will return to. So in a way, looking to the stars is to look to our past, present and future (#Tip 9) – literally!
Of course the more you look, the more there is to see. If you can use binoculars or even small telescopes, there is not a patch of clear sky that doesn’t have thousands of stars and other galaxies in them. It is actually relatively simple to see the moons of Jupiter with a pair of binoculars. It is also increasingly possible for so many of us to take photographs of celestial objects and some, like novae (the gas left after a star has exploded, or the gas around forming stars), can be very pretty and abstract in their own way (#Tip 38) and referred to as ‘space art’ as a search engine term.
We have spoken about how practicing being abstract and letting your mind wonder, in both senses of that word, – as when you gaze – can actually place you in a mediative state, where your brain can both calm and start noticing more of what is happening around it, as well as in it (noticing how it thinks). The benefits of meditation is a #Tip we are going to be coming to soon. But suffice to also say, the habit of gazing and by gazing seeing and appreciating more, is in itself a transferable skill. This has in fact lead to really fruitful collaborations between astronomers and medicine – the ability and challenges to observe, notice and process have so much in common.
There are also all sorts of apps that will now allow you to point a smart device to the sky to identify what you are looking at. You can set alerts and be reminded of astronomical events such as lunar eclipses, meteor showers and the passing of space stations and satellites. This can add an element of expectation and need to wait for it (#Tip 37).
The sky is literally the limit with this #Tip! So how about the next time there is a clear patch of night sky, taking a look and see what you find for yourself?
Watch our #Tip40 on the Instagram Live Recording….
With start eyed Dulcie and Dr Iain with his artificial star backdrop (LEDs)….
Are we really made of stardust? Natural History Museum Link by Kerry Lotzof
How to spot a meteor shower – Royal Museums Greenwich
Find Jupiters Moons – online resource
National Space Centre (Leicester, UK)
SciArt21 – Coastal Carolina University Honors projects
A Wide Open Sea of Stellar Art: “The Cosmos” at the New York Hall fo Science
The only warning here is that anyone doing any of these activities is by definition an astronomer! Someone interested, engaged or looking at what the stars are and work.
There are some small constraints, like the weather with this one, but even then there are all sorts of online and virtual resources that you could use to get the most of looking into the night sky when you can. This means even if it is cloudy, wet or just too darn cold for you, there are options here. Many professional and amateur observatories are available online – sometimes with realtime observations.
Of course do be careful of course with this one. Looking up at the stars whilst walking in the dark, especially around trip and fall hazards may mean that the stars that you see are not just in the sky!
So this is a #Tip that is another free one that could lead to so much more, especially if you habit stack it with other #Tips. Who knows, looking to the stars may even become a passion or means of earning a living for you – if you can let yourself embrace the infinite possibilities that looking into the infinite cosmos can bring you on any clear night.
Tales from our Test Partners
Watch this space… Or why not fill it with some of your star gazing stories and pics?!
Here’s a song from Les Mis that our DigitalJen brought to us:
In your multitudes
Scarce to be counted
Filling the darkness
With order and light
You are the sentinels
Silent and sure
Keeping watch in the night
Keeping watch in the night
You know your place in the sky
You hold your course and your aim
And each in your season
Returns and returns
And is always the same
And if you fall as Lucifer fell
You fall in flame!
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