When my husband and I moved from California to Michigan, we took a cross-country road trip. We saw gorgeous landscapes all along the way, though the first day gave us the best vision of all. On that day, we rolled out of our driveway in Pasadena and drove to the Grand Canyon. The grand architecture, carved by one river over an immense amount of time, included some of the most breathtaking scenes imaginable.
We admired that landscape in the daylight, but after sunset, we encountered another view just as profound. With all forms of light pollution removed, we saw the immense sky of stars. To this day, I’ve never seen anything quite like that view.
It took our eyes a few minutes to adjust to the darkness and take in the full expanse with its multitude of small details. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so many stars as I did that night. While we were standing outside and marveling at the view, Ian said something rather obvious, but I had truly never thought about it before.
“For the vast majority of human history, this is what everyone used to see.”
Assuming a sky clear of clouds, any night and every night, most of our human ancestors viewed a sky just as rich. In these last hundred years alone, the lights of our cities have begun to keep most of the stars hidden, even at nighttime.
There is a huge form of loss in that recognition. I pondered that while I stood in the chilly Arizona air. But that night, privileged to see this rare sight, I also felt rooted to a set of big-picture connections.
I thought about those ancestors, most of them beyond my imagination, who were able to view the night sky in the way I was seeing it now.
Connections across time.
I thought about those enormous, fiery stars, also beyond my imagination. Though farther away than can easily be fathomed, they are large and powerful enough for us to see them right here.
Connections across space.
Since that roadtrip just three years ago, more earth-like planets have been discovered around those enormous, fiery stars, raising even more questions about the potentiality of intelligent life elsewhere. Could intelligent beings have marveled at the sky that night from their locations, so distant from us, yet asking similar questions?
Connections across life.
When we begin to wrap our mind around the size of the universe, we easily feel miniscule in comparison. Perhaps, we also feel insignificant. But if we get away from the cities and take in the expanse of the sky, we might also feel connected to this great, significant existence. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll even find our place in it.