John’s Personal Blog- May 2016

Hello Again!

It’s been a while since I posted a new blog and now here it is! It has been a busy time with much change in the wind. And, that is apparently where much of the change has stayed- in a wind that passed by and moved on to other places. Although it seemed that there would be a lot of things rearranging in my life, most of it never materialized. That is just fine too.

I had an amazing experience last night. I was at a neighbor’s house enjoying a beer on her patio and chatting. I also had my binoculars and iPad with an app that shows the night sky. Earlier in the evening, I was looking at Sirius and Orion as they sat perched on the twilight’s fringe, thinking about how the winter stars were moving on to other skies and how that meant that summer would soon be here. Our rainy season in south Florida usually begins in mid-May and that, calendar-wise, was only a week away. In defiance of that fact, the weather was cool and humidity low- the gift of a rare and strong late season cold front. The night sky, although compromised by the glare of urban lights, was still beautiful. I sat waiting for Mars, Saturn and Antares to rise up high enough in the east for me to appreciate through my binoculars.

Knowing this may be my last night (at least until October or November) with a perfectly clear sky that was free of hazy tropical humidity, I picked up my iPad to look at the night sky app while my neighbor went into her house to retrieve something. I moved the device around as it displayed what was above (and in front) of me. To the south (virtual south on the iPad screen), I spotted the constellations Crux and Centaurus on the star map, jutting just above the flat horizon. Their angle and southernly position, combined with the best sky viewing conditions that could be found in an urban area like this, created a rare and brief opportunity to see them. This struck a deep chord in me. I have never seen Crux because it is a southern hemisphere constellation. And Centaurus was renowned for the star Alpha Centauri, which is the closest star to our planet. They too were just above the horizon! Being from a northern region, I seemed destined to never see these famous star groupings. But at that moment, from were I was at, they would be visible for only a couple of hours and I needed to seize the opportunity.

The gathering ended and I set out to observe these two constellations. This wasn’t easy. The sky, although clear, was hazy near the horizon and that dampened the brightness of any star that would hope to peer through it. Another problem was the flatness of south Florida. It was only possible to rise above the trees and houses by climbing up onto a roof, which I wasn’t prepared to do so late at night. I walked out into the neighborhood and hoped for the best. Looking down a long, straight street, I spied the dull amber star which marked the uppermost part of Crux, the cross. Looking further, I was able to find the upper three start of the cross. The lower-most star never comes above there horizon here, so I was thrilled to have seen that much. It was beautiful. The uppermost star had a rich orange light that was reminiscent of the glow from a home’s hearth.

My quest moved towards the star Alpha Centauri. I walked the neighborhood with my binoculars and searched for windows through the clutter, hoping to get lucky. I came to one spot where there was a narrow, but clear view to the horizon through an opening in the canopy of trees. In an act of hope, I held the binoculars to my eyes. I saw Alpha Centari. It flickered with an intensity that few other stars had and its hue shifted among the purest whites, oranges, blues, then yellows as Earth’s atmosphere split its 4.2 year-old rays into a spectrum of colors. As I pondered this star, I thought about what was happening on Earth the day the light I was seeing left that star. I thought about how many people in the Sahara, the Andes, Australia, Melanesia or India were also looking at that star at that same moment. To each of us it meant something different. For me, it was a scientific curiosity and a thing of rare beauty. To someone else it was an old friend that they had seen each season throughout their life. To another, it marked the beginning of harvest season. It was wondrous.

Be well, my friends.

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