Watching The Stars Come Out

When I was on retreat this past June, I had a few nice evenings on the retreat grounds doing something I hadn’t done since I was a boy. About a half-hour before sunset, when the sun has dipped below the western trees, I spread a groundcloth and blanket. Making sure I was away from any large tree, and fortified with bug repellent, I reclined on my back and waited for the stars to come out.

Being on retreat, I had a Bible and journal. So I prayed and wrote while the light was still good. While the sun is still up, or shortly after sunset you have a prayer of seeing a star in the daylight sky. Even then, it’s likely the planet Venus with an extraordinarily sharp pair of eyes (and the knowledge of where to look).

Usually with astronomy, one thinks a telescope is necessary for real fun. And to be sure, a telescope allows the observer to go deep into the sky.

Binoculars and a handy star guide are nice. You can see a lot of interesting sights with a decent pair of binocs.

But at the end of June, it was most peaceful and enjoyable to have the sky, the emerging stars, and the quiet buzz of earthling insects. No magnifying devices at all. Just a pair of eyes, and my memory on where to find the first stars and when I would see them against the serene and darkening blue background.

Stars appear first well above the horizon, away from the glare of the sunset and city lights. And the brightest ones, of course. Arcturus, the brightest northern star, was the first to come out. Then Vega within a minute or two. The sky deepened in blue, and a handful of scattered stars soon followed: Altair and Deneb near Vega. Spica just past Arcturus. Saturn toward the west–the only planet I noticed. Last up of the First Magnitude stars, Regulus in the west and Antares in the south.

About ten to twenty minutes later, the constellations emerge around and between those bright stars. If you can last an hour or two, and are far enough into the country, the stars that continue to come into view fill up the sky. As a city boy, my first reconoitering of the dark skies of summer Scout camp were almost overwhelming–too many stars it seemed.

I’ll have to take some time to do this again soon.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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