Friday, November 15, 2013

Looking Up

Living in the city, my best view of the night sky is
the StarWalk app on my iPad.
One thing I miss from growing up in Upper Michigan is the night sky. Being miles from the nearest street light, we took full advantage of having a free planetarium right outside our door. And sometimes even the windows. My bedroom had high, west-facing windows that reached up to the peak of the roof. When I wasn't asleep I was counting the identifiable constellations and stars in transit.

I feel blessed remembering how lunar eclipses and meteor showers were family events which warranted a temporary bedtime waiver and my mom's homemade kettle corn. One of my fondest memories is of being lifted out of bed by my dad, just getting home from his midnight shift, to witness a breathtakingly spectacular display of Northern Lights.

When I got older, eight or nine, I got a reflecting telescope for Christmas. I remember how excited I was to see the rings of Saturn, the moons around Jupiter and to explore the craters of the moon silhouetted along its terminator. By the time I came inside my clothes would be soaked with dew.

I spent my last night before leaving for college with a high school friend laying on a dock jutting out over her family's mirror-still lake, pointing at the satellites and meteors flinging between the constellations. After graduating from college, just before moving to Ohio for my first real job, I spent a night in a sleeping bag on the beach in front of my grandparent's cottage on Lake Michigan. I'll never forget how awesomely beautiful the sky was that night.

I haven't spent many nights since then looking at the sky. Urban living has its opportunities, but stargazing isn't one of them. On the best of nights I can see a few of the brightest stars and planets from the balcony of my condo in Atlanta. Occasional camping trips to the North Georgia mountains or rare visits back to the Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin are the only glimpses that come close to the majesty I remember from my childhood.

I saw Comet Hale-Bopp on a trip back to Upper Michigan. I wasn't looking for it, and I wasn't even sure what it was at first until remembering the news reports. Some crazy cult believed they could hitch a ride on the comet by committing mass suicide. Freaks. I wasn't going home to stargaze. That was 1997, back when my mom first got sick.

But now we have a new comet visiting our neck of the solar system. Comet ISON is coming in hot to swing around the Sun on Thanksgiving Day. They say if it survives that hairpin turn, it may become spectacularly bright. Maybe even the "Comet of the Century". That would surly beat any Christmas light display your neighbor could come up with.

That's still a big "if" at this point. There's also a chance it break up during it's first ever encounter with our Sun.  Either way, we'll know for sure in a few weeks. I have my fingers crossed for Comet ISON. I'd rather not let Hale-Bopp be the comet of the century.

Fare thee well, Comet ISON. Try not to kill too many crazy people while you're here.


  1. I am SO excited for this comet. I watched Hale-Bopp for DAYS. Freezing cold weather and I'd just stand outside and stare at it. It was incredible.

    I took astronomy in college and always wished I were smart enough to be an astro-physicist. If you get to NYC, you MUST spend a day at the Hayden Planet-arium.

    1. The Hayden Planetarium is definitely on my bucket list!