Looking back a few months ago, to the cold, snowy days of the beginning of the semester, one of the first images that comes to my mind is that of the night sky. I remember walking along the icy path to Ranch at the end of study hours and staring upwards at the expanse of white dots, bright against the blackness of the night sky, and thinking, I’ve never seen more stars in my life.
These days, the walk to my cabin in darkness has changed. The air is warmer, the ground is muddier, and the stars? Well, they have changed too.
I’ve noticed that the light of the stars is softer than it used to be. This is due to humidity in the atmosphere. During the warmer spring and summer months, the air can hold more water, hence distorting our view of the night sky to appear hazier. The winter sky offers a clearer view, revealing sharp, bright stars, because it is drier.
The physical map of the sky has changed too. Because the Earth rotates around the sun, the view that we see of the stars changes depending on where we are in our orbit (thus seasonally). Some constellations, like Ursa Major, Ursa Minor and Cassiopeaia, we can see all year round. In the winter, constellations such as Pegasus, Orion and Pisces appear; in the spring, constellations such as Leo and Virgo.
I never really thought about the night sky in the past. I saw it—often thought it was pretty—but I never wondered about or questioned it. I feel as if, being at Chewonki, I’ve learned to pay attention to what is around me, and more importantly, to ask why. It’s fascinating to watch the universe work, and amazing how, if you merely notice something, you can be enlightened to a whole new world.