January 3, 2007

Look At The Sky

I don't notice a lot of people looking at the sky. That's a shame. I think the sky is often quite beautiful. When I get up in the morning, these days it's usually around sunrise (except on days when I'm recovering from a bout of insomnia). On some days I can see a rosy Belt of Venus on top of the Tehachipi mountains. This morning, when I fed the critters, the sky was an astonishing deep blue (as it turned out, the sunrise was obscured by a sandstorm around Llano.

At night, the sky is well worth watching, especially in winter when Orion rules the starry sky. My favorite sight through the telescope is the Great Nebula, which you can almost see with the naked eye on a clear night with no moon out. It's the middle of the three stars in Orion's sword, the one that looks fuzzier than the others. When the moon is out, it's fascinating to examine.

Sunsets are something that more people appreciate -- in part because they happen at ground level. A really good sunset is like a symphony in the sky. It needs a certain amount of haze or other material in the atmosphere, which is normally not a good thing except for at sunset. Then, the entire sky turns into a slowly-graduated slice of the spectrum. A good sunset also needs some clouds, preferably some high-altitude cirrus clouds, wispy and delicate. They catch and reflect the light, looking like so many strands of copper and rose-colored ribbon thrown all over the onrushing dome of the night.

Shadows cast by stationary objects can move so fast around sunrise or sunset that you can, with even a small amount of patience, actually watch them move.

I've also always enjoyed clouds, particularly big cumulus clouds that move and roll and boil and fall all over themselves with the wind. Those we don't get so much here in the desert, but they do come from time to time. Back in Florida, they generate lightning on a regular basis, and a big Florida thunderstorm, with lightning arcing from cloud to cloud as well as down to the ground, is just spellbinding.

Here in the High Desert, there are almost always aircraft moving about at reasonably low altitudes. I've seen several F-117's, bizarre-looking angular aircraft painted flat black. They are quiet on approach but very loud after they pass over, making a satisfying screech of jet blast through the desert air. Every once in a while, a B-2 takes off or flies about, and they are indeed impressive to see, both for their mass and the stark contrasts of the near-invisible face profile and the bat-like, triangular silhouette when the plane banks. About two months ago, a V-22 Osprey was flying about, another strange-looking aircraft indeed.

Last night I got a special treat. While out cooking, I looked up to enjoy the stars and see if any planes were moving around. I saw a star moving very fast -- obviously not a high-altitude plane; it was moving much too fast to be that. It grew very bright for about two seconds, and then grew dim again, moving across its arc at an astonishingly fast pace. It could only have been the International Space Station; the brightening and dimming I noticed being the sun reflecting off the solar panels.

I'd like to find time to get up to the Sierras and take the telescope with me. This time of year, that's a very cold proposition, but maybe during the summer. But even when going about day-to-day business, I always try to find time to look at the sky. It brings peace and is frequently a source of awe. It's a shame so many people are so wrapped up in their day-to-day activities that they forget to see the beauty of nature readily available by simply looking up.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

What a beautiful post. Hope you guys are enjoying the New Year!