Monday, August 20, 2012


               Since I was a young child, I can always remember looking at the stars in awe. Every summer one of the things I loved most about camp was going out after everyone was asleep, just to go look at the stars. It was a sight my city life had deprived me of, making it all the more special when I did see it. I never really thought about it, I never cared or wondered what drew me to the stars, or why no one else seemed to care as much as I did, I just loved the feeling of being in their presence. I never cared much for the names of the stars, or how far they were, or what they were made of, I was quite content just to stare and take it all in, as if it were some cosmic art show.
              When I was fourteen, my grandfather passed away. During the Shiva, I looked through some of his books and was thrilled to discover a book on stargazing. The name of the book was “The Stars” by H. A. Rey, yes, the same man who brought you Curious George. I t gave me the first glimpse of what these stars were, and some sense of the distances involved. I soon learnt some of their names, some of their patterns, and how to find them; however, as I was still young I soon lost interest and went back to just staring at them. I must confess though, it was never quite the same, I now knew that I was looking up at stars very similar to our sun. I now had some sense of how far they were, and consequentially how big they were. I also started understanding how small we (planets of our solar system) were, and how insignificantly tiny I, as a human being on the surface of a small planet was.
               As I grew up and my interest in physics developed, I started learning things about some of specific stars and about stars in general. How they form, what they do, how they die, and how much of our life we owe to them. This gave me a completely new set of eyes on the stars, and I now stare at them with newfound wonder like old friends whom I have just begun to understand. However, it never took away from the beauty that I had always felt; the sense of being a voyeur staring into an astoundingly beautiful universe. Like an art connoisseur at a museum, as I stared at the countless stars I felt like an outsider looking at a most beautiful universe not my own.
                A few months ago, I discovered a shocking and horrible thing. I read that the Andromeda Galaxy is on a collision course with our own Milky Way. Having long lost my stargazing book, I would go out and would stare at the stars like a teacher facing a classroom, knowing that one of them was getting ready to make some serious trouble, but not knowing which one. Last week I found one of my books, and brought it upstate with me with the hope of tracking down the troublemaker. Around an hour ago, I went out to go find him and was rewarded with a real treat. It was a cloudless sky on a moonless night; every star was shining like a halogen light bulb. The sky looked as if it was made of pure black velvet, and every star a most exquisite diamond, all spread out nonchalantly across it. I went down the road to get away from all the lights and get into the dark; it was heaven on earth. The entire night sky was lit up with countless stars of varying brightness. The Milky Way lay stretched out overhead. A shooting star danced through my sky as I pulled out my binoculars, and set out to find Andromeda. It took my ten minutes or so until I found that fuzzy spot in the sky that would not become any clearer no matter how much I adjusted my focus. I had found Andromeda. Alone on a dark road at three in the morning I let out a loud laugh. I had looked 2,2000,000 years into the past and I had seen the future of our galaxy, with my own two eyes.
                The night sky I realized, is the ultimate time machine. No star is as it appears now, the closest is around four light year away, so you see it as it was four years ago. This itself is enough of a treat, just that thought. I now KNOW that the universe is at least 2 million years old for I have seen 2 million years ago. How crazy is that? At the same time this time machine allows me to see the future, I have seen the destruction of our Milky Way. The beautiful stretch across our night sky exists only on borrowed time, it will end, as its collision with Andromeda is inevitable.
                Another thing crossed my mind as I stared at the stars. Stargazing must be one of the truly universal pastimes, transcending time and space. It doesn’t make a difference who you are, how old you are, or when and where you lived, for how can one stare at the stars and not feel that sense of awe? How can one be blind to the greatest show in the universe?