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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Go Stargazing

Before movies, before dramas, even before speech, there was the Greatest Show Off Earth: the night sky.

Virtually every culture has looked to the sky and seen entertaining stories, predictions of cataclysms, or intimations of immortality.

What a shame that all we see are "balls of gas burning billions of miles away" (as Pumba says in The Lion King).

Although I know the planets, and can pick out a constellation here and there, I have never been serious about astronomy.

But I have often been overwhelmed by the wonderment of it all, whether before sunrise on Japan's Mount Fuji, or on my back in a sleeping bag in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon.

Once, while at Chaco, I was checking out the stars before moonrise with a group of kids. One of them said, "It looks like they're rushing toward us." I explained that in fact, science says they're rushing away.

"Really?" he asked. "Then what?" Well, I said, when they ran out of oomph from the Big Bang, gravity would start them falling inward again, until another Big Bang made them fly outward, and then in, and out, in, and out, again and again.

As I gestured, clasping my hands, moving them apart, then clasping again, he said quietly, "Whoa, like a giant heartbeat."

Whoa, indeed.

It's moments when we're immersed in the stars that even a junior high kid can have an insight like that.

So get out of town, away from the city lights; lie in your back, and look to the stars. Maybe even make a wish on one.

You'll be happier.

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