Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The power of looking up

I drove to LA this weekend from Vegas for a wedding, and traveled at night to avoid traffic and 110 degree heat in the desert. I'm good at keeping myself warm, but not good at making myself cooler during a hot day (in case of a breakdown).

Out my window, I saw something that I haven't noticed in the past: the sky. It was amazing. I would have stopped, but it was late and I was tired. I knew that I'd fall asleep looking at the stars if I did.

The "milky way" is called that because it looks like a stream of milk through the sky. I've never seen this. Ever. Why not? Light pollution. Living in a city precludes one from seeing most of the stars.

Yeah, you can look up and make out the large constellations, and see some stars in between, but the sky was absolutely littered with these things. I was amazed. This is despite my having a decent grasp of the ridiculous size of the universe.

Someone in a radiant city today would never make the same observations as the earliest people. They'd be hard pressed to see more than the brightest stars, and those are fairly constant from day to day, week to week. If the earth were somehow illuminated from within, the same problem would have presented itself.

I used to feel dumb for not noticing things that I know people must have noticed a long time ago, like the planets moving around. I don't feel bad now, since I don't find myself in the open much.

Seeing the stars like that was an eye-opener to me, though. Now I see why they decided to connect the dots, to study them with their naked eyes, and to notice that some of those dots moved around against the backdrop of infinity.

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