Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.
I spent a fair amount of time outside looking at the moon and stars during college. It’s something that’s gotten away from me lately, with life being what it is. Warner Robins isn’t the best place to stargaze, though I’ve definitely lived in places with worse light pollution. There was a brilliant, gloriously bright moon in the sky the first night we were at my mom and stepdad’s house in Michigan, and, for better or worse, it brought up a lot of memories.
During the first couple years of my bachelor’s degree, I was juggling a lot of family issues and some academic problems. In addition, I came to college with very few social skills and a lot of reasons it would be easy for people to bully me. You heard it here, folks: bullying doesn’t necessarily stop after high school. I was unlucky enough to have several roommates those first couple of years who constantly found fault with me somehow, and lots and lots of really interesting rumors and lies went around about me. As a result, I didn’t necessarily want to spend a lot of time at either my dorm or my first apartment. Even in the dead of winter, I walked through campus a lot of nights because I didn’t want to go home.
I think the best semester, though, was fall of my sophomore year when I had astronomy lab at the Brooks Observatory one night a week. I wasn’t so good at all of the math, but on those nights we got to go up and use the telescopes, I skipped all the way home. I read all about the legends behind the names of the constellations and faithfully took my star chart out when it was dark and clear enough to see anything so I could look for particular constellations. That astronomy lab woke something up inside me. I’d taken the lecture component during spring of my freshman year, so I’d covered a lot of the theoretical stuff, but actually getting up there with a powerful telescope and everything I needed to understand just what it was I was seeing.
Grad school was a little different. I was older, a bit wiser, had a few more friends to hang out with, and a lot more to do. I’m not gonna lie–grad school was pretty hard for me. I’ve never had the natural gift for analysis and writing that Dallas has (which was a source of unending irritation while we were both in school), so I had to work a lot harder. That meant a lot of early mornings and late nights at the library, halfway across campus from where I lived. The moon and stars were out, especially in the winter when it was barely light out as the library opened, but I just didn’t have time for them. Occasionally I’d get to look up and get a glimpse of the moon as it lit my way, but one bad fall on an icy sidewalk while I was distracted by how beautiful it was put an end to that.
I’ve tried to keep up with recent developments in astronomy since I’ve been out of school. I’m a proud member of the Planetary Society (and yes, I carry my membership card in my wallet, next to my Starbucks gold card, because I’m an over-caffeinated nerd) and so I read a lot of their blogs and eagerly tear through the quarterly Planetary Report. (I am super, super excited for LightSail in 2016!) I listen to StarTalk and do my best to keep up with all the fun things NASA and SpaceX are coming up with these days. From the historical angle of things, I have access to an incredible amount of space shuttle-related material because Dallas’ grandfather worked for a company that did space program support in Huntsville from the mid-1960s until he retired, and he never threw anything away, so Dallas inherited mission patches, crew photographs, and other miscellanea. It’s fun to go through all of it.
However, until that night in the backyard at Mom’s a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t just stood there and looked at the moon for more than a minute or two. Sure, I’ve gone and gotten my camera, snapped off a couple of shots, and gone back in the house–but it’s not the same as just observing it.
There’s something about looking at the sky that just kind of grounds you. Your problems go to the back of your mind. Everything fades away, becomes calmer, more peaceful. In my opinion, the night sky is the best place to lose yourself. Try it sometime, you’ll like it.